Gerard Pique's header, 3 minutes from time, proved the difference Monday afternoon when reigning champions Spain, looking for their 3rd consecutive European Championship, faced Czech Republic in their Group C matchup at a gloomy Stadium de Toulouse.
Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
Spain came in the match in red hot form, having won their last eight competitive games, whereas Czech Republic could take comfort in the fact they had won seven of their last ten group stage games
in a European Championship.
Starting lineups are in... can #ESP defend their European crown? #ESPCZE #EURO2016 pic.twitter.com/4ZDQ7hZP4K— TheSportMatrix (@TheSportMatrix) June 13, 2016
The Czechs started the brighter of two, as they looked to play the long-ball up the pitch, forcing a handful of corners and a free-kicks from a shaky Spanish defence, albeit they had nothing to show for. From there on out, it was all Spain.
As expected possession was the name of the game for Spain, who had a staggering 68% possession and 14 corners compared to a measly 32% possession for Pavel Vrba's side.
Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva to name a few were the benefactors, making intricate, sharp and crisp passes in hope of finding an opening. With a quarter of an hour gone, Spain's first real chance came, Juanfran fed through Silva on the right flank, who's low cross, met by Morata was saved comfortably by veteran keeper Cech.
Morata continued to cause trouble for the Czech Republic's centre-half pairing of Hubnik and Sivok, being regularly played in by the elusive Spanish midfield. He came close to breaking the deadlock in
the 29th minute but was unable to cause much trouble for Cech with a low driven shot.
With half-an-hour gone, Spain looked the much better of the two sides, remaining patient with their build up play and applying constant pressure to the Czechs who had zero breathing space and could not get a foothold in the game. Silva and Morata came close to giving Spain the advantage, but their efforts came up short.
#ESP 0-0 #CZE— UEFA EURO 2016 (@UEFAEURO) June 13, 2016
Attempts: 5 - 2
Possession: 68% - 32%
Passes: 284 - 116#EURO2016 pic.twitter.com/crHXuXzTYG
Despite the dominant first half display from Spain, the scoreline at the interval remained 0-0, due to lacklustre finishing in the final third. The chances of the Spain not finding a way through in the second half looked extremely unlikely, however.
Spain came out the blocks running in the second half, forcing corner after corner. Ramos and Nolito
had chances, but the ball would just not go into the back of the net. Czech Republic were able to temporarily survive the onslaught.
The Spanish kept coming, wave after wave, attack after attack, but were still unable to find that goal as the hour mark approached.
Yet, against the run of play, there was a rare chance for the men in white to get on the scoresheet by centre-half Hubník, however, he could only divert Krejcí's left-footed delivery into the arms of De Gea.
Morata, who had been the most lively and threatening for Spain was subbed off in the 62nd minute for Athletic Bilbao's 35 year-old striker Adruiz, becoming the olderst Spanish player in EURO history. A penalty-box striker, with great aerial presence, Del Bosque was looking to plan B.
Czech Republic continued to push on, and had their best spell of the match. Theodor Gebre Selassie had an almighty chance to steal the lead from the corner, if not for Fabregas, who's last-ditch clearance saved his team from going 1-0 down. A moment of panic for Spain who were living very, very dangerously.
Nonetheless, Spain regained control and continued their search for that goal. Alba came close, Juanfran came close, Silva came close, but still no goal.
|Image: Getty Images|
Another chance for Spain came shortly after. With just over 15 minutes to go, Nolito and Iniesta combined inside the area before the Barcelona midfielder found David Silva, who cut inside and almost found the far corner with a left-footed effort. Almost.
Del Bosque, growing frustrated, opted to bring on Chelsea winger Pedro in place of Nolito.
Then at long last, Spain finally found a way through. A little bit of interplay between Pedro and Iniesta before the latter whipped in a delicious ball which Pique rose to. The back of the net bulged, the sight Spanish fans had been waiting for all game/ Spain had the lead they had been searching for after their eighteenth attempt on goal.
Czech Republic looked deflated, having been unable to keep out Spain with just a few minutes remaining on the clock. They did, however have one final chance to get something from the game, but De Gea denied Darida's strike.
The final whistle blew, with relief on the faces of the Spanish players having got the late goal.
A dramatic win for the holders, and it was deserved, though the Czech Republic defended with such discipline it seemed the goal would never come. The Spanish fans never stopped chanting and earned their reward at their end.
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