A late winner from Gerard Pique gave Spain a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic in their opening match of Euro 2016. Good goalkeeping and last-ditch defending kept the scoreline much closer than it seemed.
If Spain were worried about a repeat of their dismal group stage exit from the 2014 World Cup, their performance against the Czech Republic on Monday in Toulouse was an important step in the right direction.
After controlling play for most of the game, a late goal from Gerard Pique gave Spain the crucial three points they needed to get their Euro 2016 campaign off to a winning start.
Vicente del Bosque’s side dominated the match early on, but struggled to beat the imposing Petr Cech. The Arsenal goalkeeper’s good positioning and dominance in the air proved vital for the Czech Republic. He stopped two good shots from Alvaro Morata and a third from Jordi Alba in the first half to keep the scores level.
While Cech proved reliable at the back, the Czech Republic’s midfield struggled to contain Andres Iniesta and David Silva. The playmaking pair ran riot in the middle of the pitch. Iniesta nearly got on the scoreboard in the first half when he attempted to chip Cech from distance, but his effort went high.
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, finally tested the Spanish defense on either side of the hour mark. Goalkeeper David De Gea did well to stop Roman Hubnik’s toe poke in the 57th minute, while Cesc Fabregas was forced to make a goal-line clearance after Werder Bremen’s Theodor Gebre-Selassie shot on goal just eight minutes later.
As the clock ticked towards full time, Spain ramped up the pressure. Nolito and Jordi Alba each broke through on goal, but each time were foiled by a last-ditch clearance, or a good save from Cech.
The winning moment finally came in the 87th minute. With Ramos and Pique both sent forward, Iniesta sent a curling ball into the box. It was Pique who was there to meet it, and put the game’s only goal into the back of the net.
It was a narrow, but well-deserved victory for the Spanish. After dominating the majority of the match – with 11 shots to the Czech Republic’s three – they were rewarded with a late goal.
Spain continue their group stage campaign on Friday night against Turkey. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, face Croatia earlier that day.