Spain, the defending champions, got their Euro 2016 campaign underway with a deserved 1-0 win against Czech Republic, thanks to a late goal from Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.
Apart from one or two odd moments, Vicente del Bosque’s side nearly dominated the entire match, with Andres Iniesta running the show with his metronomic presence in midfield.
Iniesta was at the heart of almost every attacking move: he found pockets of space with ease, sprinkled passes all over the ground, and created loads of chances for his teammates.
At the final whistle, the 32-year-old ended with 92 passes, 100% take-ons, created five goal-scoring chances and registered one assist to his name.
He was simply a joy to watch. It was his assist, a lovely floated delivery of the highest quality, from which Pique nodded home, two minutes from time. If you can’t find space through the ground, why not test them with floating crosses?
While Del Bosque goes on preaching about the system and the process, in the end, the difference between the two sides being made by a moment of sublime individual brilliance.
The best part about his display was everyone around his seemed to struggle – Silva, Nolito, Fabregas, Morata – but he maintained his sharpness and composure throughout. Probably that’s where experiences come into play.
To be fair, Spain did well. They had a staggering 67% ball possession, 17 shots on target, and completed 601 passes, almost four times than their opposition.
Spain have a tendency to shift gears towards the later stages and are not really prolific starters. They were atrocious in their opening game defeat in 2010 World Cup, very flat in Euro 2012 opener and were humiliated by Netherlands in their opening game at 2014 World Cup.
From that perspective, it was a much better performance and a well deserved three points on the table. They were much quicker in their approach, passed the ball quickly and looked for more penetration rather than useless sideways passing.
There are few problems, however, that needs to be ironing. The movement in the final third needs to be fluid. Spanish football expert Guillem Balague notes: “Morata is the ideal centre forward for Spain. Comes deep, goes out of box, good finisher, good technique. Now he just needs to score”. Morata, however, failed to impress. He was
Morata, however, failed to impress. He was too static and dropped deep too often when he was required to stretch the Czech defence with his pace and movement.
The fullbacks were also disappointing. If you look at the Spanish midfield set up, the likes of Fabregas, Busquets, Silva and Iniesta, they are great technicians and excellent passers but are hardly known for their surging runs. They play narrow so that they can play intricate passing football and retain possession. The width is mainly provided by the fullbacks. Both Juanfran and Alba couldn’t quite provide the width and pace from the flanks, as expected.
Overall, Spain had a really good game. They created a lot of chances and wasted too. That is one area where they need to work upon in coming matches.
Oh, and David de Gea has yet to concede a goal for Spain in 360 minutes, while La Roja have now gone 600 minutes without conceding a goal at the European Championships.