Spain 1-0 Czech Republic: Late Pique header saves holders' blushes in opening game

A late goal from Gerrard Pique was enough for Spain to beat Czech Republic in both team's Euro 2016 opener in Toulouse.

Spain 1-0 Czech Republic: Late Pique header saves holders' blushes in opening game
Spain 1 Czech Republic 0: Late Pique header saves holder's blushes in opening game | Photo: Vincent Kessler/Reuters
1 0
Czech Republic
Spain: De Gea, Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Alba, Fabregas (Thiago, min. 70), Iniesta, Busquets, Silva, Nolito (Pedro, min.82), Morata (Aduriz, min. 62).
Czech Republic: Cech, Kaderabek, Sivok, Hubnik, Limbersky, Darida, Plasil, Gebre Selassie (Sural, min. 86), Rosicky (Pavelka, min. 88), Krejci, Necid (Lafata, min. 75).
SCORE: 1-0, min. 87, Pique.
REFEREE: Szymon Marciniak (POL). Booked Limbersky (min. 61),
INCIDENTS: 2016 UEFA European championship group D match between Spain and Czech Republic. The match was played at the Stadium Municipal, Toulouse, France. 29400 spectators.

A Gerard Pique header three minutes from time was just about enough for holders Spain to see off a stubborn Czech Republic team in their Euro 2016 opener. 

Pique bails Spain out

Despite a near-full game of Spain dominance, it looked as though they were going to leave with a frustrating opening game draw, however, the unlikely source of Barcelona defender Pique popped up late on for Vicente Del Bosque's side.

With little more than three minutes left on the clock, Czech Republic cleared a corner, but failed to clear their lines and eventually the ball was worked to Andres Iniesta on the left wing. The Barcelona midfielder then clipped a cross up for his Barca team-mate, Pique, who ghosted in between the Czech defence to head home from just six yards out.

The Spain players celebrate Pique's late headed goal | Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters
The Spain players celebrate Pique's late headed goal | Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Chance after chance goes by

Until that late goal, Spain must have really thought it wasn't going to be their day as numerous clearcut chances came and went in each half. Most of these in the first period fell to Juventus forward Alvaro Morata, the first of these coming in the 16th minute when Petr Cech denied him from point blank range after the striker met a low cross from the right by David Silva.

Just before the half hour mark, Morata was denied once again by the Arsenal goalkeeper. On this occasion, he received the ball on the left side of the box following a pass from the magician Iniesta, before making some space for himself and driving across goal, left-footed, only to see Cech's fingertips push the ball wide of the far post.

The former Chelsea shot-stopper would be in action again just before half time, as he first beat a Jordi Alba strike across goal away from a tight angle, before he then had to dive at the feet of Silva on the right side of the box to turn away his attempted dink over him.

Last ditch defending keeps Czech's in it

Spain's main barrier to scoring in the first half was Cech, but in the second half it was a combination of their own poor finishing and superb last ditch defending by Pavel Vrba's team. This started right from the start of the second half as Spain had another couple of great chances in the first two minutes of the period.

With literally just seconds gone after the break, Morata was causing issues once again, having been fed in behind on the right side of the box, before squaring the ball across the box where Czech defender Roman Hubnik wrong-footed his 'keeper by deflecting the ball, but thankfully for him it rebounded off the outside of the post and behind.

From the resulting corner, Cech punched the ball clear, but only as far as Nolito who quickly hit it back at goal low, but the outstretched leg of Tomas Sivok turned the ball away, only for Sergio Ramos to get a second stab at it and see the ball deflected by the same player still sprawling on the floor.

Rare Czech Republic threat

It was clear, and perhaps unsuprising, that the gameplan from the Czechs was to sit back and try to soak up the Spanish pressure, which they almost did a perfect job of. However, when they did enjoy some success going forward, it tended to be sourced by left winger Ladislav Krejci.

The midfielder had a decent game and set-up both of the Czech's main chances in the second half. Firstly in the 65th minute he clipped in a delightful left foot cross from the right, which picked out Theodor Gebre Selassie at the far post who then headed it back across goal and might have saw it go in if not for the sliding intervention of Alba.

With just over a minute of stoppage time left he gave midfielder Vladimir Darida a chance to get the Czech's a point as he pulled it back to him on the edge of the box from the left byline, only to see his rasping half volley beaten away with two hands by David De Gea who was a spectator for much of the game.

What's next

Both team's next games in group D come on friday where Czech Republic take on Croatia in Saint-Etienne and Spain battle Turkey in Nice, with both teams set to be fighting for different reasons due to this first result.