Spain were made to work extremely hard as they battled to a 1-0 victory over a resilient Czech Republic side in their opening Euro 2016 match in Toulouse on Monday afternoon.
- Spain 1 Czech Republic 0
- Morata shoots straight at Cech
- Cech keeps his side in the match
- Czech Republic are denied two chances
- Pique heads home Iniesta’s cross at the death
The defending champions’ campaign looked destined to get off to a disappointing start as it took them 87 minutes to break a deadlock.
It wasn’t for a lack of chances, though. Petr Cech made save after crucial save in the first half and a few minor mistakes by the Spain forwards in the final third also played a role.
Their opponents weren’t without opportunities either. David de Gea made a number of important stops and a vital interception from Cesc Fabregas midway through the second half saved his team’s blushes.
In the end, it was the class of Andres Iniesta that proved the difference between the two sides. The Barcelona midfielder’s accurate cross leading to the winning goal, scored by Gerard Pique.
Spain took a while to find their feet in the match, failing to capitalise on superior possession until the 17th minute when Silva was put through on the right flank by Juanfran. The winger’s low cross found Morata, whose shot at point-blank range hit the chest of Petr Cech.
Fifteen minutes later, a failed clearance landed at the feet of Iniesta, who put the ball at the feet of Morata. The Juventus forward faked a shot to get the defender to commit early and fired a shot towards the bottom-right corner. Cech threw himself to his left and somehow managed to steer the ball around the post.
It was a one-man show for the Czech Republic as their goalkeeper again showed his immense class by making a relatively simple save form a powerful strike from Alba on 41 minutes, and shortly after again from Silva, sliding forward to rob the Spain winger of possession.
The Czech Republic managed to put together a neat counter attack on the stroke of half-time. Theodor Gebre Selassie broke down the right flank and found Tomas Necid on the edge of the area. With minimal backlift the striker thundered a shot at the top-right corner. De Gea was perfectly positioned, however, and punched the ball clear.
There was a frantic start to the second half, with Spain threatening twice in the space of two minutes. First, Roman Hubnik intercepted a cut-back pass from Morata, very nearly turning the ball into his own net. Shortly after, the Czech defence somehow scrambled the ball clear inside the six-yard box after not dealing with a corner.
Hubnik came close again, this time on the other side of the pitch. The Czech defender got himself at the end of a terrific free kick from David Krejci, stuck out a foot and poked the ball at the bottom-right corner of De Gea’s goal. The Spain stopper saved relatively comfortably, though after initially looking like he may have been wrong-footed.
The Czech Republic started looking dangerous an hour into the match, a period of pressure culminating in a corner that resulted in what was their best chance of the match. Gabrie Sellasie did well to out jump his marker and head the ball back across the face of goal, but a fabulous interception by Fabregas prevented the scoring opportunity.
Spain weathered the short period of pressure from their opponents and again took control of the match with just under 20 minutes left on the clock. Jordi Alba’s control let him down on the edge of the six-yard box, his heavy second touch denying him the chance to slot the ball past Cech.
David Silva did extremely well to make enough space for himself for a shot from on the edge of the box after being teed up by Iniesta. Unfortunately for the defending champions, it was well wide of the left-hand post.
The match seemed headed for an unlikely draw when Iniesta received the ball from Juanfran and was given enough time to float a pin-point cross towards Pique, who had no problem out-jumping his marker and heading home.
De Gea was then to make the final significant contribution to the match shortly after the restart, saving a rasping shot from Darida, who was unmarked at the edge of the area.