A late goal from Gerard Pique has seen defending champions Spain claim a 1-0 win over a battling Czech Republic in Toulouse.
As expected, the Spaniards started on the front foot and were a constant threat in the first-half, with Alvaro Morata unlucky to open the scoring on several occasions due to some superb defending from the Pavel Vrba’s men. The second-half began in the same manner as a wayward clearance almost made its way past Petr Cech, but the score remained level.
The Czechs soon came out of their shell and almost took a shock lead, with only a goal line clearance from Cesc Fabregas sparing Spanish blushes. La Furia Roja soon regained the upper hand though and took a deserved lead on 88 minutes after Pique headed home an inch-perfect delivery from Andres Iniesta.
Iniesta dominates in midfield
Anyone who questioned if Iniesta’s glittering career was winding down was silenced in emphatic fashion after the Barcelona midfielder bossed the contest from first whistle to last. A constant threat to the Czech defence, his ability to weave in and out of tight spaces before playing a final ball to an attacker was simply mesmerising, and it is little wonder that when the winning goal eventually came, it was directly from the 32-year-old, who looks set to have yet another big tournament for the Spaniards. His pass accuracy of 91% displays his evergreen quality in possession.
A brave defensive performance from the Czech Republic
Seen as the weakest team in the group, it was perhaps unsurprising to see Pavel Vrba’s side set up with a defensive mindset. That being said, many were still expecting the quality of Spain breeze past the Czechs, but a tremendous effort from the back four, and of course goalkeeper Cech, was only four minutes away from holding out the champions. Central-defensive pairing Roman Hubnik and Tomas Sivok were particularly strong, who contained and frustrated Morata in the first-half, and then Aduriz in the latter stages. Despite the solid defensive performance, they will need to force the initiative more in their remaining group matches if they want to progress.
David De Gea gets the nod ahead of Iker Casillas
World Cup winning captain Iker Casillas has been one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, if not all time, but the decision to drop the stalwart in favour of the younger David De Gea is perhaps a signal of a changing of the guard in Spanish football. De Gea himself is well known and is expected to reach similar heights to Casillas, and he made a smart save in injury time from point blank range to preserve Spain’s three points.
How group D is shaping up
Alongside Group E, this group was billed as one of the most competitive and after matchday one Spain and Croatia have the upper hand having won their matches against the Czech Republic and Turkey respectively. La Furia Roja next face Turkey and Vincente Del Bosque’s men will be very confident of making it two wins from two after the Turkish produced a lethargic performance in their opener. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic’s hopes will be just about on the line as they come up against Croatia, in what is expected to be a tight contest.