Spain’s bid for a third straight UEFA EURO title began with a dramatic Group D victory as Gerard Piqué’s towering 87th-minute header ensured they found a way past the Czech Republic.
Andrés Iniesta’s inswinging cross was met by the head of his Barcelona colleague just when it seemed the points were to be shared. The Czech defence were missing the suspended Marek Suchý but coach Pavel Vrba set up a cautious selection with effectively six at the rear. Whenever Spain had the ball, both wingers withdrew to outflank the full-backs – and it so nearly worked.
Petr Čech was alert to all first-half danger when a Spain team with Iniesta pulling the strings did break through, though moments before half-time David de Gea, preferred to Iker Casillas, did have to block from Tomáš Necid on the counterattack. Right at the start of the second half there were more fantastic saves from Čech and Ladislav Krejčí’s brilliant saving tackle looked to have secured a point. Piqué had other ideas.
Man of the match: Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
Even if he hadn’t made the goal, Iniesta would have been the obvious choice after carving out five opportunities. He completed 85 of his 93 passes and, with 46 of those delivered in the attacking third, the No6 was always the instigator of Spanish danger.
Immovable object almost holds off irresistible force
Spain had more than two-thirds of the possession and a far higher percentage of the attacks. Yet Vrba got his tactics virtually spot on and his players gave absolutely everything to keep the champions out. While things did not quite work out in the end, this is not a team that will be easily beaten.
Spain’s finishing touch
Iniesta conducted Spain’s play with his usual aplomb but something was missing as the passing moves lacked an incisive touch at the finish. A high cross and strong header made the difference late on, suggesting Spain have more than one trick up their not-insignificant sleeve.
Best of Čech
While Spain left their centurion goalkeeper on the bench, Čech – on his 122nd appearance for his country – can seldom have played better, even by his stellar standards. He was unlucky not to keep a clean sheet, having failed to do so in any of the nine qualifiers he played.