A late Gerard Pique header sealed a deserved win for Spain over the Czech Republic in Toulouse as they began their bid for a third consecutive European title with a 1-0 victory in Group D.
Andres Iniesta was the standout player as his passing and movement constantly threatened the Czechs for whom Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech was in inspired form.
He had kept his side in the game with several important saves to deny Spain with in-demand striker Alvaro Morata having a game to forget. But then in the 86th minute, Barcelona defender Pique rose high to head home an Iniesta cross to seal the points.
In a first-half totally dominated by Vincent del Bosque’s side, the Czech Republic owed much to Cech for keeping them in the match.
The Czechs forced two early corners and a free-kick after good work by Werder Bremen wideman Gebre Selassie, but these attacks – which came to nothing – proved to be rare advances into Spanish territory as Andres Iniesta and his midfield counterparts passed around and probed the Czech defence.
In the seventh minute, Juanfran patiently waited for an opening down the right wing before firing in a dangerous cross that was cleared. Manchester City’s David Silva then picked up the ball on the opposite wing and played in Alvaro Morata, but the in-demand Juventus forward was flagged offside before firing straight at Cech.
Vladimir Darida dispossessed Sergio Busquets deep in the Czech half and launched a long ball forward, but the diagonal was easily cleared by Gerard Pique. Had the Czechs managed to do this more in the first half then they could have proved more dangerous to the Spanish.
In the 15th minute, Cech made his most important save, blocking a shot from Morata six yards out after Silva had crossed. Ten minutes later, Iniesta played in Morata, who again was muscled out of it by Sivok, the centre-back who also deserved credit for getting the Czechs to half-time goalless.
Morata hen wrongs foot a defender after a pass from Iniesta, turns and shoots but Cech yet again denied him.
As the half wore on, Spain appeared to become frustrated as both Iniesta and Morata strike from distance. Jordi Alba then brings a further solid save from Cech as he shoots from the edge of area.
On the stroke of half-time came David de Gea’s only role in the first half, saving comfortably as Necid shot from 20 yards.
After the break, Spain almost made a breakthrough immediately when Hubnik came close to turning a Morata cross into his own net. The Czech defender then almost scored at the other end as he stretched for a cross only for De Gea to save comfortably.
Fabregas then had to be alert to clear off the line when Gebre Selassie headed a short-corner taken by Krejchi towards goal.
At the other end, Alba fails to convert after being slipped in by Silva before Iniesta, influential throughout, sets up Silva only for the City man to place his shot just past the post.
Andruiz, who replaced the misfiring Morata, put an overhead kick wide when free in the area from a Juanfran cross as Spain continued to search for the winning goal.
Kerejchi made a vital sliding challenge on Alba, who was through on goal on 80 minutes, as Spain must have begun to think the goal would never come.
But then Pique rose to head home a cross from man of the match Iniesta in the 86th minute to give Spain a deserved three points.