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Monday 5 December 2016

Pique the late, late hero for Spain

Gerard Pique celebrates after scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters/Sergio Perez
Gerard Pique celebrates after scoring their first goal. Photo: Reuters/Sergio Perez

Gerard Pique struck a late winner as defending champions Spain opened their Euro 2016 campaign with a narrow victory over the Czech Republic.

The Barcelona defender headed in with three minutes left to end the frustration for the holders and seal a 1-0 win. Spain, 2008 and 2012 European champions, were utterly dominant but looked like drawing a blank until Pique struck in Toulouse in Group D.

Roman Hubnik almost scored an own goal while Alvaro Morata and Jordi Alba were denied by Petr Cech at the Stadium Municipal.

Spain spent most of the game camped inside the Czech half and are now level with Croatia after their 1-0 win over Turkey on Sunday.

With Spain dominant, Pavel Vrba's Czech side showed little ambition and Cech denied Morata again after 29 minutes, turning the Juventus striker's low effort wide. It seemed only a matter of time before Spain went ahead and Hubnik nearly scored a calamitous own goal within a minute of the re-start when he turned Morata's cross onto his own post.

But Pique finally broke the deadlock and bagged a deserved win for Spain after 87 minutes when he pounced on Andres Iniesta's cross to nod past Cech from four yards. Darida could still have snatched a draw for the Czech Republic but his injury-time volley flew straight at De Gea.

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