UEFA Euro 2016
Stadium Municipal de Toulouse, Toulouse, France
Defending European Champions Spain began their defence of their title with a narrow 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at the Stade de Municipal de Toulouse in Toulouse.
A goal three minutes from time from Gerard Piqué got Spain’s 2016 European Championship campaign up and running in what was Spain’s first tournament match since their early exit in the Group Stage of the 2014 World cup in Brazil.
Spain started well and went close to finding the opener in the 15th minute when David Silva wonderfully pulled the ball back to Morata at the near-post with a first-time cross, but the Juventus man’s first-time effort was instinctively saved by Petr Cech who gathered the ball at the second attempt.
In the 28th minute Spain went close again. Andrés Iniesta found Morata who feined to shoot before he unleashed a strike that forced Cech into a good save with the Arsenal man having to palm the effort behind.
Eleven minutes later Spain were denied by Cech again. Iniesta found his Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba in space and the full-back did well to force Cech into a good save from a tight-angle.
A minute later Cech was on-hand again to prevent Spain from taking the lead. Juanfran found Silva in space, but Cech was quickly off his line and smothered the Manchester City winger’s effort.
Czech Republic’s first real attempt came right on the stroke of half-time. Tomáš Necid was found in space and his effort on the turn forced David De Gea into action for the first-time, but despite juggling the ball, he gathered the ball at the second attempt.
Spain began the second-half in the ascendancy and nearky took the lead. Morata was played through by Iniesta, and when he pulled the ball back across goal it looked as though they were going to score when Roman Hubník inadvertently cleared the ball back towards his own net, but he was fortunate to see it come off the post and out.
In the 56th minute Czech Republic went close to taking a shock lead when a Ladislav Krejcí freekick was directed goalwards by Hubník on the stretch but De Gea was equal to it.
Eight minutes later, Czech Republic nearly went ahead. Another Krejcí delivery caused havoc for Spain, and when Theodor Gebre Selassie headed the ball back across goal it looked as though the Czech’s were going to score against the run of play, however, a fantastic goal-line clearance from Cesc Fàbregas prevented them from doing so.
In the 72nd minute, Spain went close. Nolito found subtitute Aritz Aduriz who played it to Iniesta who then teed up Silva who bent an effort just wide. Three minutes later, Aduriz was involved again. The player making his national tournament debut, met a Juanfran cross with an acrobatic volley but it flew wide, although the flag was up.
Seven minutes later, Spain looked as though their time had come, and when Nolito found substitute Thiago, he looked set to score but Krejcí made a fine last-ditch challenge to deny Spain a sure goal.
It looked like time was running out but with Spain’s last attack of the game, they scored. A Spanish corner wasn’t dealt with well by Czech Republic, and Spain retrieved the ball and worked it well. Iniesta cut inside and sent in a dangerous cross that was met by Piqué who headed home.
However there was one last chance for Czech Republic to get an equaliser. In the 91st minute, Vladimír Darida forced De Gea into a fine save. The midfielder fired the ball at goal from just outside the area on the bounce, but the Manchester United keeper came to Spain’s rescue – palming the ball away.
The result meant that Spain go second in the group behind Croatia whilst Turkey and Czech Republic occupy third and fourth respectively.