No bite in Spain, says Gary Lim
Iniesta crafts Pique winner, but Spaniards still have a forward problem
(Gerard Pique 87)
CZECH REP 0
Their first shot at redemption ended in a win, but it hardly restored the faith.
Spain's 1-0 win over Czech Republic yesterday in their opening Euro 2016 match couldn't mask an underlying problem that threatens to derail them yet again.
Spain crashed out of the World Cup two years ago looking very much like world champions past their expiry date.
They left the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse yesterday appearing anything like a team capable of retaining their European crown.
Unless coach Vicente del Bosque can turn his goal-shy forwards into prolific marksmen overnight, Spain's adventure in Euro 2016 is set to end in disappointment.
Spain's dearth in proven goal-scorers in recent years has forced del Bosque to experiment with various strategies.
Against the Czechs, he went for three up front, which consisted of David Silva and recognised forwards Alvaro Morata and Nolito.
Evidently, quantity is also not the solution.
Morata's mediocre display culminated in his substitution in the 65th minute, when he was replaced by 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz.
Nolito on the left spent the entire game trying to grapple with the Czech Republic's offside trap.
Silva offered more purpose and drive, but he was never much of a direct goal threat to begin with.
The distinctively Spanish habit of possession football and the subsequent failure to convert chances turned out to be a frustrating combination once again for their followers.
It was especially so against a Czech side with one of the worst defences at the tournament.
Despite topping their group during qualifying, they had failed to register a single clean sheet in all 10 qualifiers.
But, if Spain were expecting presents, they were wrong.
They did create a hatful of chances, with playmaker Andres Iniesta looking particularly sharp with his superb distribution and precise passes.
But time and again, the opportunities went to waste.
Morata spurned a couple of good openings in the first half, twice failing to beat the Czech's star goalkeeper Petr Cech.
Then Silva broke free but he allowed Cech too much time to close down the angle before taking his shot.
Jordi Alba, who had already missed a good opportunity before the break, wasted another just after halftime.
With just Cech left to beat, he somehow let the ball bounce against his knee following a poor first touch, and the Czechs gleefully cleared.
Spain were nearly made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal had their opponents shown some composure of their own up front.
The Czech's best attacking spell came at around the hour mark, when they twice came close to breaking the deadlock.
Roman Hubnik will rue not making a cleaner connection with a free-kick when he was left unattended to in the penalty area.
Then it took Cesc Fabregas' superb clearance in the six-yard box to prevent a headed goal by Theodor Gebre Selassie.
The Czechs' brief period of momentum ultimately didn't cost Spain, but it showed the price they could pay against stronger opponents, especially the dangerous Croatia who they will meet in their final Group D match.
Eventually, a centre back showed them the way. Pique, venturing upfield to lend some last-minute aerial help, leapt highest to nod home an irresistible Iniesta cross three minutes from time.
It gave Spain a winning start to the tournament, but hardly gave del Bosque a sign that he's close to solving his major problem.
Spain made passes in the first half against the Czech Republic, the most in Euro 2016 so far.
David Silva, 30, has won his 100th Spain cap to be level with Carles Puyol. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas is the leader with 167 appearances.
WHAT THEY SAY...
"It is very important to start well. 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 Gerard Pique
"We took the initiative throughout the match. We dominated. Everyone wants to score more but we haven’t been too bad in the last few years with this style. We have the responsibility to win and not just play nicely."
— Spain coach Vicente del Bosque
"There is no single way of breaking down these teams. You have to be calm, have patience and just keep working at it."
— Man of the Match Andres Iniesta
"The quality of Spain is at another level to us. Spanish football is the best in Europe, we can see that in their clubs, in the Champions League and Europa League."
— Czech Republic coach Pavel Vrba
DID YOU KNOW
Spain are now unbeaten in 13 games at the European Championship Finals, since a 0-1 loss to Portugal in 2004. The clean sheet also means Vicente del Bosque’s men have not conceded in 600 minutes of football, and it was their sixth straight clean sheet