At the final whistle, Spain were still trying to work out how they had failed to win again, why this keeps happening to them. Even Alvaro Morata scoring the goal he, and they, had so desperately needed was not enough. By the end of a tense and often wild evening, it was desperate for everyone; it was also a draw, Robert Lewandowski scoring a second half equaliser, Gerard Moreno missing a penalty and Wojciech Szczesny somehow making a late save that leaves this group wide open.
After all that time waiting, after the whistles and criticisms, at last the moment came. Morata scored one; he problem was that he didn’t score two, or three, and he might have done. No one else did either, nerves frayed in this stadium as they discovered that there was no way through.
Moreno turned inside from the right, where he and Marcus Llorente had been at the heart of so much that Spain did. From the edge of the area, he bent the ball in with his left foot and Morata was there to turn it past Szczesny from inside the six-yard box. There was a roar, a release, but it was incomplete. On the touchline, the flag was up. There was a familiar look from Morata and a familiar feeling too. This, after all, is the man who had 12– yes, 12 – goals ruled out for offside last season.
He would not be so unlucky as to have a 13th; instead, he would get to savour this and celebrate twice. From the VAR room it was validated and he was off, running towards the Luis Enrique, teammates following behind. Morata embraced his manager, and then continued towards the subs and the staff on the bench behind, including Joaquín Valdés, the selección’s psychologist. They had deserved this too.
Poland had surprised Spain with a bright, dynamic start which included a big penalty shout inside two minutes – the challenge had been from Morata of all people – and Mateusz Klich striking a twenty-five-yard shot that clipped the top of the net having flown past Unai Simón. But Spain had taken control and by half-time there was a pattern that had been seen before, 77% of the ball theirs. They might have extended their lead too, Moreno missing at the near post from Jordi Alba’s delivery having previously curled a free kick just wide.
That said, there was a vulnerability about them every time that Poland broke and in truth Paulo Sousa may have felt his team should have scored. From a Spain corner, Morata bundled over, Lewandowski had run through from deep alone only to be caught by Alba. He had also clipped in a cross from which Karol Swiderksi couldn’t quite guide a volley past Simón. And then just before half-time, he could have levelled this. Swiderski struck against the post from outside the area and the rebound came to Lewandowski. His first touch was a little heavy but from five yards he got off a shot that Simón somehow reached out a hand to stop.
It was a good save and a bad miss. It was also made good when ten minutes into the second half, Lewandowski nudged Aymeric Laporte, leapt and headed Kamil Jowiak’s cross into the net.
Within two minutes, Spain were given the chance to take the lead again, when Danielle Orsato headed to the VAR screen to watch a replay of Jakub Morder treading on Moreno’s foot inside the area. If it looked a little soft, in his view it also looked enough of a penalty to point to the spot. Moreno’s shot, though, came back off the post, the rebound flying at Morata fast, who was only able to shoot wide. Soon after, Morata struck a cross shot past the far post, but Spain were struggling to find clarity now.
They also found themselves in third place. Poland, meanwhile, had something to hold onto – a first point that would carry them into the final game against Sweden still with a chance of going through. And on those moments went they were able to break up the pitch, Spain could feel the threat even if, after a slightly chaotic spell during which there was a certain edge to the game, Luis Enrique’s side began to increase the pressure once more.
Poland were a little ragged now, Szczesny almost dropping a simple ball at the feet of Ferran Torres and before Morata’s attempt to turn and fire off a shot inside the close range provoked a scramble that ended with a wild, and relieved, hack clear. It was desperate, for everyone, Ferran Torres dropping the ball at the feet of Morata five yards out. As he swung, though, Szczesny flew, somehow saving the day