Spain got their European Championship finals defence off to a winning start with a 1-0 win over Czech Republic in Toulouse, thanks to Gerard Pique’s late header.
The Barcelona centre-back rose highest to head home his club team-mate Andres Iniesta’s cross three minutes from time, in a match where they dominated possession and wasted a whole host of chances.
On a damp afternoon in southern France, the holders started with David De Gea in goal, despite some allegations regarding his private life last week, while Manchester City midfielder David Silva picked up his 100th cap for his country.
Incredibly, there was also just one Real Madrid player – Sergio Ramos – named in Vicente del Bosque’s team.
For Czech Republic, Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech was making his 122nd appearance between the sticks, but Borek Dockal missed out on a place in the XI because of an ankle problem.
The team in white started the stronger and had a good opportunity to take lead in the fourth minute when Gerard Pique brought down Tomas Necid on the corner of the penalty area, but Vladimir Darida could only send his free-kick straight into the Spanish wall.
As expected, Spain were dominating possession and Alvaro Morata had the first decent chance for the 2012 champions in the 16th minute, but he could only send an effort from Silva’s cut-back into the six-yard box straight at Cech.
Morata then had another chance for Spain just before the half-hour mark, but his low shot in the penalty area was well tipped wide by Cech, who was certainly the busiest of the two Premier League goalkeepers on show.
The efforts continued for Del Bosque’s side, with Nolito and Iniesta both shooting over, before Jordi Alba’s left-footed strike in the area was well parried away by the Gunners stopper.
De Gea finally had to make his first save of the half on the stroke on half-time, but it was a relatively simple as Tomas Necid’s shot from outside the area went straight down his throat.
Spain began the second half strongly and hit the post within a minute of the restart, as Morata’s cut-back was deflected onto his own post by Roman Hubnik and out for a corner.
From the resulting set piece, Cech’s punch was poor, and Nolito fired in from the edge of the area only to see his shot well blocked, before Ramos was also foiled by the Czech defence.
The Czechs then had a rare chance of their own in the 57th minute, but Hubnik, who almost put through his own net just after the interval, couldn’t quite stretch enough to make good contact with Ladislav Krejci’s inviting free-kick.
Pavel Vrba’s side then went even closer when Theodor Gebre Selassie’s header back across goal was somehow cleared off the line and away from danger by Cesc Fabregas.
Spain continued to pressurise and Silva brilliantly found Alba in the box, but the Barcelona left-back’s touch let him down, before Silva himself could only shoot wide after cutting back onto his stronger left foot outside the area.
Krejci then stopped what seemed to be a certain goal for Nolito with a brilliant last-ditch sliding tackle before Spain finally found their breakthrough three minutes from time.
Iniesta broke on the left-hand side before cutting back onto his stronger foot, and crossing for Pique, whose header from six yards finally beat Cech.
Man of the Match: Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The holders looked set to be heading to a goalless draw in their opening match at the 2016 European Championships, but a fantastic cross by the Barcelona midfielder found the head of Gerard Pique, who finally beat Petr Cech in the Czech Republic goal. Aside from the assist, Iniesta was one of Spain’s biggest threats going forward, and as usual was comfortable on the ball and willing to find pockets of space.
What’s Next? Spain, who have now failed to concede in their last 600 minutes at the European Championship finals, face Turkey in Nice on Friday evening, while the Czech Republic will look to pick up their first points against Croatia, who were impressive in their 1-0 victory against Turkey, in Saint-Etienne.