Friday 9 December 2016

Iniesta pulls the strings as Spain leave it late to get off to winning start

Spain 1-0 Czech Republic

Glenn Moore

Published 14/06/2016 | 02:30

Spain's players celebrate after Spain's defender Gerard Pique scored the opening goal during the match. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/Getty Images
Spain's players celebrate after Spain's defender Gerard Pique scored the opening goal during the match. Photo: Nicolas Tucat/Getty Images

Title defences do not always go to plan. The last time Spain defended a trophy, at the 2014 World Cup, they and everyone else were stunned by a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands from which they never recovered.

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This time they started with a win, which was of evident relief to a squad which has had a difficult week, but it was perilously close. Despite utterly dominating the Czech Republic, Spain could have lost this match and only won it three minutes from time with the old-fashioned method of sending up the centre-half. Gerard Pique it was and it took his far-post header to break Czech resistance. Even then they required a big David De Gea save to hold on to three points.

Roman Hubnik and Jaroslav Plasil of Czech Republic compete for the ball against Aritz Aduriz of Spain during the match. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Roman Hubnik and Jaroslav Plasil of Czech Republic compete for the ball against Aritz Aduriz of Spain during the match. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Vicente del Bosque kept faith in the Manchester United goalkeeper despite De Gea having to give a press conference at the start of the tournament following allegations that he had been mentioned in connection with a Spanish police investigation into a sexual harassment case. He denies all involvement.

Read more: Pelle rounds off Italian masterclass to stun Belgium

Pattern

The pattern of the match was set early on. Spain passed and probed, moving the ball from side to side while waiting for a chance to slide or chip the killer forward pass.

Spain's defender Gerard Pique runs to celebrate his goal during the match. Photo: Pascal Pavani/Getty Images
Spain's defender Gerard Pique runs to celebrate his goal during the match. Photo: Pascal Pavani/Getty Images

In the 16th minute David Silva, winning his 100th cap, ran onto a Juanfran pass on the right and crossed low to Morata only for Petr Cech, anticipating smartly, to save at the near post.

Midway through the half Andres Iniesta, who was controlling the game, slid a pass through to Juanfran but his touch was imperfect and Ladislav Krejcl tackled before the ball was scrambled away. And so it went on.

After half-time the Czechs defended even deeper. Still chances were created. Roman Hubnik hit his own post while preventing Alvaro Morata's cross reaching Cesc Fabregas.

The Czechs, though, offered a threat from set-pieces.

Czech Republic's goalkeeper Petr Cech makes a save during the match. Photo: Pascal Guyot/Getty Images
Czech Republic's goalkeeper Petr Cech makes a save during the match. Photo: Pascal Guyot/Getty Images

The Spanish hordes grew increasingly anxious. A superb tackle to deny Thiago Alcantara seemed to confirm it was not going to be Spain's day. Then Iniesta, again, found a yard of space. The cross was perfect and Pique glanced in.

Forced to attack, the Czechs did so with such brio one wondered why they had not been more adventurous earlier. Vladimir Darida almost snatched an undeserved point but De Gea, for the second time this week, stood firm.

Independent News Service

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