GLASGOW: The Czech Republic closed in on the Euro 2020 knockouts on Friday as a bloodied and battered Patrik Schick netted a first-half penalty to help them secure a 1-1 draw with Croatia, whose own qualification hopes will go down to the wire.

Schick, who took his tally for the tournament to three, picked himself off the turf and wiped the blood from his nose and mouth before burying a 37th minute spot kick, awarded after Dejan Lovren`s flailing elbow clattered into the striker`s face. That was not enough to secure victory, however, as Ivan Perisic`s superb leveller shortly after the break gave Croatia renewed hope of making it through.

The result left the Czechs with four points from their two games and a giant step closer to booking their spot in the last 16. They face England in their final game at Wembley on Tuesday knowing victory would see them top the group while defeat would probably not be fatal.

For Croatia, who have one point, the situation is more pressing. They face Scotland at Hampden Park in their final outing knowing defeat would end their campaign, while victory would put them in a good position to reach the knockouts.

Zlatko Dalic`s side, however, showed little against the Czechs to strike fear into Scotland. They are clearly not as potent a force as when they reached the World Cup final in Russia in 2018 with a team bursting with ingenuity.

The current side, who have claimed just two wins in their last 11 games, now seem to miss the inherent self-confidence they had three years ago and lack bite up front.

The same cannot be said for the Czechs, who in Schick possess a marksman fuelled on the self belief that comes from putting the ball in the back of the net. After his double against Scotland, including an astonishing effort from near the halfway line, he netted a ninth goal in his last 12 international appearances to go top of the Euro 2020 scoring charts.

Forsberg fires Sweden to top of group 

ST PETERSBURG: Sweden moved to the top of Group E with a 1-0 win over Slovakia on Friday after Emil Forsberg scored their first goal of the European Championship from the penalty spot to put the Scandinavian side on track for the knockouts.

In a game short of clear-cut chances, Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka tripped Robin Quaison in the second half and Forsberg beat him from the resulting penalty to end a 365-minute run without a goal for Sweden at the Euros.

The winger told SVT broadcaster that the first half was only “half-okay”. “In the second we played the ball up, we created a little more pressure. A great action by Robin Quaison to win the penalty, fantastic to score it,” he added.

Sweden, who last reached the knockout stage in 2004, lead the group with four points from two games, one ahead of Slovakia in their second successive Euros as an independent nation.

Spain, who have one point, play bottom side Poland on Saturday. The final round of Group E fixtures – Sweden v Poland and Slovakia v Spain – will be played on Wednesday.

Both teams threatened from set pieces early in the first half but Slovakia`s Juraj Kucka and Sweden`s Mikael Lustig saw headers sail over the bar.

Sweden were compact at the back, as they were against Spain in their goalless opener, and it was centre back Victor Lindelof initiating attacks with his distribution from a high defensive line, at times camped in Slovakia`s half.

Slovakia switched to a five-man defence when they were out of possession, frustrating the Swedes who were unable to string passes in the final third while Slovakia`s defence easily won the aerial duels.

Slovakia eventually made inroads towards the end of the first half as Sweden retreated but they lacked the creativity to make the final pass count and the first 45 minutes ended with neither goalkeeper tested. 

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