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Piqué pounces late as Spain beat Czech Republic in EURO 2016 Group D

Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
Gerard Piqué's towering 87th-minute header ensured Spain began their title defence with a victory in Group D.

EURO 2016 highlights: Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
EURO 2016 highlights: Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
  • Gerard Piqué heads in 87th-minute winner to give Spain three points in opener
  • Andrés Iniesta makes goal and stands out for title holders
  • David Silva picks up 100th cap for Spain in Toulouse

Spain's bid for a third straight UEFA EURO title began with a dramatic Group D victory as Gerard Piqué's towering 87th-minute header ensured they found a way past the Czech Republic.

EURO 2016: All you need to know

Andrés Iniesta's inswinging cross was met by the head of his Barcelona colleague just when it seemed the points were to be shared. The Czech defence were missing the suspended Marek Suchý but coach Pavel Vrba set up a cautious selection with effectively six at the rear. Whenever Spain had the ball, both wingers withdrew to outflank the full-backs – and it so nearly worked.

Piqué: Spain deserved the three points
Piqué: Spain deserved the three points

Petr Čech was alert to all first-half danger when a Spain team with Iniesta pulling the strings did break through, though moments before half-time David de Gea, preferred to Iker Casillas, did have to block from Tomáš Necid on the counterattack. Right at the start of the second half there were more fantastic saves from Čech and Ladislav Krejčí's brilliant saving tackle looked to have secured a point. Piqué had other ideas.

Man of the match: Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
Even if he hadn't made the goal, Iniesta would have been the obvious choice after carving out five opportunities. He completed 85 of his 93 passes and, with 46 of those delivered in the attacking third, the No6 was always the instigator of Spanish danger.

Immovable object almost holds off irresistible force
Spain had more than two-thirds of the possession and a far higher percentage of the attacks. Yet Vrba got his tactics virtually spot on and his players gave absolutely everything to keep the champions out. While things did not quite work out in the end, this is not a team that will be easily beaten.

Spain's finishing touch
Iniesta conducted Spain's play with his usual aplomb but something was missing as the passing moves lacked an incisive touch at the finish. A high cross and strong header made the difference late on, suggesting Spain have more than one trick up their not-insignificant sleeve.

Best of Čech

Highlights: The best saves of UEFA EURO 2016
Highlights: The best saves of UEFA EURO 2016

While Spain left their centurion goalkeeper on the bench, Čech – on his 122nd appearance for his country – can seldom have played better, even by his stellar standards. He was unlucky not to keep a clean sheet, having failed to do so in any of the nine qualifiers he played.

Team reporters' views from the Stadium de Toulouse
Graham Hunter, Spain (@BumperGraham)

Arguably a 2-0 or 3-1 disguised as a 1-0 victory. They call it the 'minimum win' in Spain but that's not what this was. Vicente del Bosque's men were confident and fluent from the start but, importantly, maturing all the time and neither panicking when the chances didn't go in nor beginning to feel they had to settle for the stalemate as full time neared.

The sight of Spain throwing both centre-backs forward in the last five minutes – meaning that if Piqué had missed then Ramos would have converted – says a lot about their mentality. Kudos to Cesc Fàbregas too for saving a goal during the Czechs' best moment. The champions are on the move. 

Ondřej Zlámal, Czech Republic (@UEFAcomOndrejZ)
Vrba's plan worked right up until the closing stages, and this was a brave rearguard action from the Czechs who came very close to a very good result. Their game plan against Croatia will definitely involve more attacking instructions.

EURO 2016: Team of the Tournament
Czech Republic line up before facing Spain at EURO 2016
Czech Republic line up before facing Spain at EURO 2016 AFP via Getty Images

Lineups

Spain: De Gea; Juanfran, Piqué, Ramos (c), Alba; Busquets, Fàbregas (Thiago 70), Iniesta, D. Silva; Nolito (Pedro 82), Morata (Aduriz 62)
Substitutes: Casillas, Rico, Azpilicueta, Bartra, Koke, Vázquez, Bellerín, Soriano
Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Czech Republic: Čech; Kadeřábek, Sivok, Hubník, Limberský; Darida, Plašil, Selassie (Šural 86), Rosický (c) (Pavelka 88); Krejčí, Necid (Lafata 75)
Substitutes: Vaclík, Koubek, Kadlec, Dočkal, Pudil, Škoda, Kolář, Skalák
Coach: Pavel Vrba

Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)