Spain braced ahead of ‘do or die’ game

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Spain forward Pedri reacts at the end of their Euro 2020 Group E match with Poland at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville on June 19, which ended 1-1. AFP

Spain are readying themselves for a test of nerve in their last group game against Slovakia on Wednesday night, with Luis Enrique’s side needing victory to guarantee their place in the last 16.

Sweden have already advanced from Group E.

After omitting Sergio Ramos, Luis Enrique has left himself open to questions about a lack of leadership in his youthful squad.

A bright start against Sweden fizzled out in the second half, while a missed penalty against Poland turned a decent display into one paralysed by anxiety and tension.

“This country has won the Euros and the World Cup, but in this squad there are many youngsters,” Spain defender Cesar Azpilicueta said on Monday.

“There are several captains in our team. We know how to act and everyone is going to give their all on Wednesday.”

Captain Sergio Busquets is expected to return after rejoining the group on Friday following his negative Covid-19 test.

Busquets has not played in either of Spain’s first two matches.

“He’s an important player, with his experience on and off the pitch,” Azpilicueta said. “He’s an incredible captain, and we know the dominance he can bring in midfield. We are very happy he’s back.”

Azpilicueta said Spain can draw inspiration from Chelsea’s triumph in the Champions League last season.

He lifted Chelsea’s second European Cup after the team changed gear under new coach Thomas Tuchel, a superb finish culminating in a surprise victory over Manchester City in the final.

Spain are pinning their hopes on a similar transformation after two disappointing draws against Sweden and Poland mean they currently sit third, a point behind Slovakia and two behind Sweden in Group E.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Azpilicueta.

“I have seen it this year in the Champions League. Before January we weren’t very good, and after that we did very well.

“A lot of people gave us up for dead last season. They thought we were out of the Champions League, out of the race for top four. People write you off, but you never give up.”

Azpilicueta’s experience might be a valuable addition to a youthful Spanish team, who now find themselves under pressure to make it out of what looked a straightforward group.

“The situation is not what we hoped it would be, but you can’t just say: ‘We didn’t win the first two games, that’s us out,’” he said.

“You have to fight to the end and all pull in the same direction. Now we have a clear objective, and it’s important we have the right mentality because Wednesday is do or die. We have to approach it like that.”

Portugal at risk of shock exit

Germany, meanwhile, can secure a place in the last 16 of Euro 2020 on Wednesday night, but holders Portugal are at real risk of crashing out despite a prolific start to Group F by Cristiano Ronaldo.

France top the section with four points heading into their final game against Portugal, a repeat of the Euro 2016 final, despite an underwhelming 1-1 draw with bottom side Hungary in Budapest.

Germany and Portugal are locked on three points apiece, but Joachim Low’s side crucially have the head-to-head edge following a thrilling 4-2 win in Munich that shifted the pressure onto Ronaldo and co.

Portugal began their campaign with a 3-0 win against Hungary as Ronaldo became the leading scorer in European Championship history, but coach Fernando Santos watched his team ripped apart by Germany last Saturday.

“We will have to look at this game and now what we have to do is clear our heads as we have a very important game against France,” Santos said after the loss to Germany.

Ronaldo scored for the third time in two games after starting and finishing a lightning counterattack against Germany, taking his European Championship tally to 12 goals at a record fifth tournament appearance.

But a fifth defeat in as many meetings with the Germans has left Portugal needing to avoid defeat against world champions France to be guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds.

“The next task is a very difficult one against France,” said midfielder Joao Moutinho. “We want to give a better image of ourselves than we did in the last match.”

A draw would likely send Portugal through as one of the four best third-placed teams, just as when they went on to win the title five years ago in France.