Late Pique goal saves Spain's unimpressive start to Euro defence

Two-time reigning champions Spain needed a late goal by Gerard Pique to pick up a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Czech Republic on Monday in their Euro 2016 opener.

Spain controlled the match throughout against a defensive-minded Czech side but finally broke through on Pique's goal in the 87th minute at Stadium de Toulouse.

Spain pulled even atop Group D with three points, the same as Croatia, who beat Turkey 1-0 on Sunday.

Spain's victory extended the Iberians' current record of unbeaten Euro matches to 13 games, dating back to a Euro 2004 loss against Portugal.

"We are happy to start with three points, and have taken a step forward," said Andres Iniesta, who was named man of the match and set up Pique's goal.

"I always try to take responsibility when I play. That's how I enjoy my football and it's no different now. It's all about the collective, and in that sense having responsibility isn't something I try to shirk."

Czech coach Pavel Vrba was a bit disappointed his team could not pick up a point.

"We knew these opponents would be very strong; they were favourites. We knew it would be a test. Spain are better in possession, in creating chances. It's disappointing to concede a goal so late," Vrba said.

"We could have scored ourselves, which doesn't often happen against Spain. We played at our maximum level and it is a shame not to get at least a point."

All eyes before the game were on the line-up sheets as Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque elected to start David de Gea despite his recent turmoil regarding an alleged sex scandal.

Spain dominated possession early on but could not solve the Czech 4-5-1 formation without a top chance until the 16th minute when David Silva - celebrating his 100th cap - crossed to a charging Alvaro Morata but Czech keeper Petr Cech got down for a nice save.

The Arsenal keeper was there again in the 29th minute, tipping away Morata's low, hard left-footer.

Cech shined yet again five minutes before the break, re-directing Jordi Alba's strike from the left side as Spain continued to dominate the proceedings.

The Czechs' only chance in the first half came just seconds before the whistle as Tomas Necid's strike was held by de Gea.

The Czech backline almost scored an own goal in the first minute of the second half but Roman Hubnik deflected Morata's cross against the right post.

Hubnik nearly put the Czechs ahead in the 58th minute as he stretched to get to a free kick from Ladislav Krejci but de Gea dove to collect the ball.

Vrba's Czechs were dangerous again at the 65-minute mark with Theo Gebre Selassie heading a ball across mouth of the goal where Spain's Cesc Febregas cleared just in front of Pavel Kaderabek.

Spain pushed forward with more authority and created a strong scoring opportunity with 17 minutes left but Silva's left-footer sailed wide left.

The champs finally broke through in the 87th minute with maestro Iniesta crossing from the left side into the box where Pique pulled away from his defender and headed past Cech.

The Czechs nearly pulled off the equaliser two minutes into stoppage time but Vladimir Darida's point blank shot was stopped by de Gea.

Last update: Mon, 13/06/2016 - 20:21
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