Spain reign in Toulouse

Spain had to rely on a late goal from Gerard Pique to ensure a narrow victory over the Czech Republic in their opening Euro 2016 tie in a rainy Toulouse.

Despite travelling to France boasting a starting XI that had enjoyed a fine domestic seasons, Vicente del Bosque’s side began poorly in their first game in defence of their European Championship crown.

In truth the Czech Republic, captained by Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, started brightly, and Spain had to work hard to establish themselves in the in the game.

However after the quarter of an hour mark, La Roja began to secure some dominance in the game, with both Alvaro Morata and Juanfran thwarted by the brilliance of Petr Cech and the Czech defence.

Morata in particular looked bright in the opening exchanges, as he sought to justify his position as Spain's principal front man, looking bright and inventive. 

There was plenty of moderate positives from the Spanish first half play – Andres Iniesta dictated things in midfield, and Morata, flanked by David Silva and Nolito, unnerved the Czech defence without a significant degree of penetration.

The distaste within the Spanish supporters at half time was palpable, unhappy that their team’s consistent possession had not yet yielded a goal, however the defending champions did respond with a positive start to the second half.

Morata was again the focus, as the Juventus man was once more denied by some heroic Czech defending. It was from this point that the former Real Madrid man appeared to decline, as his willingness to make runs in behind the Czech defence ceased.

He did offer more than the needless physicality of Diego Costa, and arguably greater hunger to create chances than Fernando Torres, but ultimately he lacked the ruthless efficiency that Spain at times need.

The second half followed the pattern of the overall Spanish performance, dominant in possession and full of creative ideas, but without that that killer goal-scoring instinct that is so key in major tournaments.

Despite a resolute defensive performance for the Czechs, they were not without threat, and Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba were regularly called upon in the second period.

With Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in control in midfield, Spain knew that the game was never really beyond them, however in recent times a complacency towards a late goal has been La Roja’s undoing, but thanks to Pique this was not the case.

The Catalan, assisted by his Camp Nou teammate Iniesta, provided the killer touch to secure victory, and ensure a positive Spanish start, banishing some memory of the World Cup 2014 opening nightmare against Switzerland.

The best assessment of the Spanish performance is almost that of a team still playing within itself. The defence and midfield base remains as constant as ever, but their integration of Morata, Nolito and Silva will take time and patience.