Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
All that matters is the score when the referee blows the final whistle. For eighty-seven minutes, the Czech Republic defended admirably and held the continuous pressure of the goading Spanish matadors at bay. But one moment was enough to decide this contest and render all the diligent Czech work pointless.
Spain one. Czech Republic nil.
Spain won, of course. The defending champions were expected to emerge from their opening encounter at the Stadium Municipal de Toulouse and win they did. From the opening exchanges, it seemed like a Spanish victory was an inevitability. Just like they do, they dominated possession, largely thanks to the wonderous Andres Iniesta who dominated the game. The constant stream of passes forced the Czechs to defend deep; Roman Hubnik and Tomas Sivok dug their heels into the turf and the normally attacking fullback pairing of David Limbersky and Pavel Kaderabek refused to foray too far forwards.
But, this was the gameplan. For the first time in his tenure as Czech Republic manager, Pavel Vrba opted to defend. He named right-back Theo Gebre Selassie on the right of midfield, hoping to guard against the threat of a marauding Jordi Alba and the in-form Nolito. With that one decision, it was clear that this was going to be a ten men behind the ball kind of display.
Not quite a bag of contradictions, the Czechs defended brilliantly and poorly. Sivok was outstanding, but there were times when Spain cut through the generally solid back four. Yet when they did, they found that Petr Cech was having one of those days in goal.
In the first half, Cech was called into action numerous times. In contrast, David de Gea, his opposite number, had spent those first forty-five minutes working out how best to shield himself from the rain.
De Gea’s easy afternoon was helped by the negativity of Vrba’s gameplan, tactics which were debated in all forms after the game. With Rosicky harrying, Darida chasing shadows and Plasil quite static, Tomas Necid was stranded up front. The Bursaspor striker tried, but despite all his industry he developed an awkward habit of trying to pass to teammates that simply weren’t there.
Compare Necid’s fortunes to that of those in red. Whenever Spain had possession, there were numerous options available. And find them they did.
With each successful pass, the Czechs built their wall that little bit higher and set it back that little bit deeper. As the seconds went by and the scores remained level, the hope and expectancy grew. Hope in the sense that a draw (or for the optimists, a win) was attainable. Expectancy that with such a defensive mindset, the sucker punch was coming.
The knockout blow finally landed with three minutes left on the clock. After seemingly exhausting all their options, Spain went somewhat direct. They couldn’t go around the wall, they couldn’t go through it, so they went over it.
After both Alvaro Morata and the veteran Aritz Aduriz failed to find to sparkle up top, it was Gerard Pique who popped up to meet a sublime cross from Iniesta. Petr Cech didn’t stand a chance.
The Czech Republic almost stole a point at the death. Thanks to some good fortune, Vladimir Darida found himself with a clear shot at goal. But the diminutive midfielder could on fire straight at David de Gea. If the Hertha man had scored, it would have been daylight robbery.
In the aftermath of the game, Pavel Vrba received criticism for all corners for his negative approach. Hopefully, just because Spain was the opponent, it was a one off. If it isn’t, the Czechs could be facing an early exit from Euro 2016.
Spain: de Gea; Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Fabregas (70′ Thiago), Busquests, Iniesta; Silva, Morata (62′ Aduriz), Nolito (82′ Pedro)
Czech Rep: Cech; Kaderabek, Sivok, Hubnik, Limbersky; Gebre Selassie (86′ Sural), Darida, Plasil, Krejci; Rosicky (88′ Pavelka); Necid (75′ Lafata)
Goals: 87′ Gerard Pique (Spain)
Bookings: 61′ Limbersky (Czech Rep.)
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 14th June 2016