Euro 2016: Gerard Pique's late header gives Spain 1-0 win over Czech Republic
Spain beat Czech Republic 1-0 in their first game in Group D on Monday afternoon in Toulouse. The defending champions struggled to break down a resilient Czech side before Gerard Pique managed to score late in the game to give La Furia Roja all three points.
Spain: De Gea; Juanfran, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas; Nolito, Silva, Morata
Czech Republic: Cech; Kaderabek, Sivok, Hubník, Limbersky; Plasil, Darida; Gebre Selassie, Rosicky, Krejci; Necid
In spite of the turmoil that surrounded David De Gea before the tournament, Vicente del Bosque opted to start with the Manchester United goalkeeper instead of long-standing captain Iker Casillas. Sergio Busquets anchored the midfield with Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas alongside him while David Silva started his 100th game for La Furia Roja. Alvaro Morata led the line while Nolito also started in attack.
For the Czech Republic, Petr Cech started in goal while his now former Arsenal teammate Tomas Rosicky also started in the no.10 role. The 35-year-old midfielder, who had only played 20 minutes for the club all season before he was released this summer, was their key man in midfield and on set pieces. Theodor Gebre Selassie, who generally plays as a right-back, was deployed on the right wing in an attacking role.
Petr Cech keeps Czech Republic in the game
The game started as expected with Czech republic sitting deep and allowing Spain to have all the possession while they looked to break up attacks and launch counter-attacks of their own. And they did threaten to open up the Spain defence early on. Gebre Selassie managed to win a corner on the right in the third minute before Gerard Pique conceded a foul near the box after a poor pass which saw Darida shoot the ball straight at the wall.
Soon after, the Czechs were outraged when the referee did not award a free-kick when Rosicky was brought down by Fabregas. Rosicky was trying to get on the end of a Necid lay-off when the Chelsea midfielder shoved him aside. The referee allowed play to go on much to the angst of the Czech team.
Spain soon found their groove, though, with Cech battling to keep a clean sheet as the defence struggled with the relentless Spaniards’ movements in and around the box. Morata was making a nuisance of himself inside the box, getting the better of the defence on a number of occasions.
One sliding attempt saw Morata try to put away Silva’s pass before Cech came to the rescue. Another spell of Spain possession saw Morata get yet another chance on goal with Cech standing firm yet again as he palmed it away for a corner kick.
De Gea hardly had anything to do with the Czechs pretty much camped in their own half. They were sat so deep that the only players in Spain’s half were De Gea and the two centre-backs – Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos – whose average positions were in the centre circle. By the half-hour mark, Spain had completed three times more passes than their opponents with Rosicky struggling to initiate attacks on his own as his teammates’ decision-making.
On the other hand, Iniesta was almost single-handedly running the game as he found his teammates with ease – spotting runs of both the forwards and full-backs. His first half numbers alone proved how instrumental he was with a 95% pass accuracy and completing all his take-ons to create three chances.
Spain struggle to break down Czech Republic
Spain started the second half just as they ended the first, by putting the pedal to the metal and making Czech players hurl their bodies in the path of every pass and shot. Iniesta released Morata with an incisive through ball that saw the forward try and cut it back for Fabregas when a deflection from Hubnik almost saw it creep into the goal before going out for a corner. Nolito’s effort from the resulting corner was also saved by Cech after which Ramos tried to score from the rebound but was blocked.
Czech Republic soon had chances on goal through set-pieces. A free-kick on the right flank saw Krejci’s delivery into the box float into the space between the defensive line and De Gea where Hubnik managed to get a foot to it but his effort was saved by De Gea who went low to catch the ball.
Soon after, Spain were desperately trying to clear the danger again when another corner saw Gebre Selassie direct a header to the back post. De Gea was beaten but Fabregas was on hand to make a superb clearance near the goal line under pressure.
Morata soon made way for Artiz Aduriz, who had scored 36 goals in all competitions for Atheltic Bilbao this season; brought on to provide an aerial threat. Meanwhile, the ineffective Fabregas was hooked off for Thiago Alcantara. The Chelsea man had neither created a single chance all game nor had he attempted a shot on goal.
The 35-year-old striker did have an acrobatic effort go wide although the offside flag did go up. But soon after, a Ramos cross was perfectly placed for Aduriz to head home but his leap wasn’t timed perfectly to head it home.
Czech resistance falls as Gerard Pique scores
With Czech Republic camped in their own box, surviving a Spanish barrage of shots, Del Bosque took off Nolito for Pedro. The Chelsea winger almost created a goalscoring chance after coming on with a cross that was put out for a corner after some great defending.
Ultimately, the goal came in the 87th minute when Gerard Pique made his way forward for a corner and planted himself near the penalty spot. Under severe pressure, Iniesta floated in a ball towards the far post where both Pique and Ramos looked to attack the ball with the Barcelona defender getting his head to it and finding the back of the net.
The Czech resistance was well and truly over after the goal as shoulders dropped but they had one last chance to find the equaliser. In the chaos of the final moments of stoppage time, Darida had a piledriver of a shot on goal that was kept out by the formidable De Gea as Spain kept a clean sheet to start their Euro campaign with a win.