In the final round of an intriguing Group E at Euro 2020, leaders Sweden seek to secure the point that would see them through to the knockout stages on Wednesday, as they meet Poland in St Petersburg.
Though the Swedes will progress if they simply avoid defeat, their opponents must win to snatch a place in the top two, having picked up a solitary point from their first two games.
y virtue of two characteristically gritty performances in the opening rounds, Sweden are guaranteed to get through to the knockout phase of a European Championship for the first time since reaching the quarter-finals 17 years ago, if they can hold Poland to a draw at the Krestovsky Stadium.
However, should Janne Andersson’s men lose and the other match – between Spain and Slovakia – end in a draw, they could theoretically miss out. Realistically, though, heading the group with four points – having followed up their opening goalless draw against Spain with a 1-0 defeat of Slovakia last time out – means that the pressure is off ahead of the game.
Currently competing at their sixth successive continental finals, the Blagult’s success last week may have been only the second victory in their last ten outings at the Euros, but it also extended a calendar-year unbeaten run to seven games and counting.
Though it was RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg who dispatched the winning penalty late on, substitute Robin Quaison also played a key part in Sweden’s hard-fought win – forcing that spot-kick soon after coming off the bench – while Alexander Isak was named Star of the Match by UEFA after previously shining brightly and striking the post against Spain.
The youngest ever player to score a senior international goal for the Nordic nation, Isak has so far stepped up to the challenge of deputising for Sweden’s totemic talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was ruled out this summer through injury, with serene ease.
On Wednesday, it will again be the young striker’s task to break down the opposition defence, as Andersson’s side aim to qualify by finishing as group winners, which would earn them a last-16 date with one of the third-placed nations.
Keeping his nation’s hopes alive, Robert Lewandowski became the first Poland player to score in three European Championships with his brilliant headed equaliser in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against group favourites Spain, having previously managed one goal in each of the last two tournaments.
The Bayern Munich striker’s 67th goal in 121 international appearances – both national records – helped the Eagles to salvage their first point of the finals, but their results so far still leave them with much work to do.
An opening 2-1 defeat by Slovakia and that determined draw against Spain mean that head coach Paulo Sousa’s run of games without a win has extended to five, with just one victory recorded in their last nine matches – a routine 3-0 win at home to Andorra in March. The tactical tinkering of the Portuguese manager has proved problematic since his appointment in place of previous boss Jerzy Brzeczek earlier this year, which came after the latter had steered the team safely through qualifying.
Nevertheless, as Spain currently sit third in the standings with two points – while the Poles are a point further back – Sousa and company will go through in second place if they can turn over Sweden and the other Group E game is not drawn. In fact, if Poland win and the Spain-Slovakia fixture does end in a draw, they can even win the tightly-fought section.
Currently at their fourth successive finals, the Eagles had never before won a match at the Euros until they advanced to the last eight for the first time five years ago, in France. To stay in with a chance of replicating that achievement this time around, they will need to overturn precedent against a stubborn Swedish side, as this will be the nations’ 27th meeting – with their opponents having won 14, including the last five.