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December 12, 2019
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Pique header defeats resolute Czechs

TOULOUSE: Barcelona defender Gerard Pique headed a late winner as defending champions Spain overcame a resolute and determined Czech Republic 1-0 in their Group D opener in Toulouse on Monday.

Pique was the unlikely hero, as the player often booed by Spain fans this season due to perceived anti-Real Madrid comments, rose highest to turn home Andres Iniesta’s cross at the back post three minutes from time.

“It is very important to start well,” said Pique.

“We played well, controlled the game, created chances, but the ball didn’t want to go in. In the end I had the luck to score the goal.”

Spain’s build-up to the tournament was rocked last week when reports claimed goalkeeper David de Gea had been involved in a sex scandal.

But coach Vicente del Bosque showed his faith in the Manchester United shot-stopper by handing him the gloves ahead of legendary Iker Casillas.

Czech coach Pavel Vrba had suggested his men could produce a trick or two to counter the “genius” of Del Bosque’s side, who are desperate to make amends for their first-round exit, as defending champions, at the 2014 World Cup.

And their dogged defence allied to heroics from Arsenal ‘keeper Petr Cech frustrated Spain until the dying moments.

“There is no single way of breaking down these teams,” said man-of-the-match Iniesta.

“You have to be calm, have patience and just keep working at it.

“The goal came the way it did because we’ve got very good headers of the ball.”

Spain’s defender Gerard Pique (R) scores a goal past Czech Republic’s goalkeeper Petr Cech (L) during the Euro 2016 group D football match between Spain and Czech Republic at the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse on June 13, 2016.

Spain’s defender Gerard Pique (R) scores a goal past Czech Republic’s goalkeeper Petr Cech (L) during the Euro 2016 group D football match between Spain and Czech Republic at the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse on June 13, 2016.

It took Spain until the 16th minute to fashion their first real chance, right-back Juanfran sending David Silva through on the right flank for the Manchester City man to fire in a perfect delivery for Alvaro Morata.

Czech, however, was well-positioned to block the Juventus striker’s first time effort from close range.

Iniesta then picked up a mis-hit clearance just outside the area to set up Morata, who feinted before flashing a low drive wide of Cech’s far post on the half hour.

Iniesta recovered from a knock on the ankle and, with Cech off his line, sent an audacious chip from 35 yards metres wide of the post.

Cech was forced into action twice more before the interval, the ‘keeper diving to parry Jordi Alba’s angled shot from the left side of the area then rushing out to block at the feet of Silva as he prepared to pull the trigger after being set up by Juanfran.

A counter-attack involving Czech captain Tomas Rosicky gave Tomas Necid the chance to test De Gea from the edge of the area, but the ‘keeper saved comfortably with the last action of the first-half

Cech came under more intense pressure in another one-sided second period, the ‘keeper desperately blocking Sergio Ramos’s effort from inside the area after Roman Hubnik turned a low cross against his own post.

Hubnik then had a rare chance for the Czechs as he got to Ladislav Krejci’s free kick, but De Gea got down well to save.

Moments later De Gea had Cesc Fabregas to thank when he produced a spectacular overhead kick to keep Theodor Gebre Selassi’s header out following a corner.

Spain’s pressure intensified in the final 10 minutes as a delightful chip from Silva found Jordi Alba unmarked, but his mis-hit shot was bundled out for a corner.

Minutes later Silva was the welcome recipient as Spain zipped the ball around the area, but the City forward sent his left-foot effort wide of the target.

Spain finally made the breakthrough three minutes from the end through Pique.

Yet, De Gea still had time to justify his selection as he kept out Vladimir Darida’s thunderous volley. –AFP