A dominant Spain left it late against Czech Republic on Monday as Gerard Pique’s 87th-minute header ensured La Roja began Euro 2016 with a win.
David de Gea ended the debate about Spain’s first-choice goalkeeper after he was picked over Iker Casillas to start between the sticks, despite his recent implication in the Torbe sexual-abuse case, while Alvaro Morata was preferred to Aritz Aduriz up top and David Silva earned his 100th cap.
Spain helped themselves to 68 percent of possession in the first half, and they should’ve got on the scoresheet early when Silva broke down the right and delivered a low ball across the face of the Czechs’ goal, but Morata could only slide his finish into Cech.
Another chance then fell to Morata, but it was another save for Cech as the former was just onside when a through ball came his way near the penalty area, but his angled strike was tipped around the post by the Arsenal veteran.
Morata could never be accused of shying away, but his insistence on helping out in the build-up play made La Roja’s attacks predictable at times. Still, he peeled off the last man in the Czechs’ defensive line and back-heeled for Jordi, but the left-back’s cross-cum-shot went straight at Cech.
Iniesta, meanwhile, looked up to see Cech off his line, and his audacious effort from some way out floated just over, but the goalkeeper quickly made amends as he pushed away Alba’s shot after the full-back broke inside down the left.
De Gea was a spectator for most part, and he had to wait until just before half-time to make a save as Necid was onside when he collected a through ball near the edge of the box, his shot then gathered by the goalkeeper.
Spain almost scored from the restart as Roman Hubnik deflected the ball towards his own goal, forcing Cech to turn it around his near post, but the defender tried to correct his error moments later, when he threw himself onto the end of a pinpoint free kick in La Roja’s penalty area, but the goalkeeper got down low to make the save.
It became clear that the Czechs’ best chance of a goal would come from a set-piece, and Krejci’s cross from a corner was met at the far post by Theodore Gebre Selassie, who headed the ball on target but was ultimately denied by Cesc Fabregas’s goal-line clearance.
Nonetheless, Spain’s grip on the game never loosened, and Alba’s awful second touch from being played in behind by Silva prevented him from finding the back of the net as Hubnik snuck in and shepherded the ball out for a corner.
Morata was replaced by Aduriz on the hour mark, but he too failed to stake his claim as he had only a failed bicycle kick and missed header from close range to show for, although his hold-up play did result in Silva nearly blasting Spain ahead from outside the box.
Thiago Alcantara was the next player to enter the fray, and he was gifted the chance to shoot for the winner, but he chose to bide his time and gave a Czech defender enough time to hook the ball clear.
Still, Spain persisted with their possession game as the Czechs were pushed further and further back – to the extent that they could take no more as Iniesta’s inch-perfect delivery into the box was headed home by Pique with just three minutes of normal time remaining.
However, the win was not yet cut and dry as De Gea saved the points for Spain, the ball having popped up for Vladimir Darida in the box, but his strike was too clean and the United man punched it clear to move the reigning champions level with Croatia atop Group D.
Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
Spain: De Gea; Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Cesc (Thiago 70), Busquets, Iniesta; Silva, Morata (Aduriz 62), Nolito (Pedro 82)
Czech Republic: Cech; Kaderabek, Sivok, Hubnik, Limbersky; Darida, Plasil; G Selassie (Sural 86), Rosicky (Pavelka 88), Krejci; Necid (Lafata 75)
Referee: Marcinak [POL]