The Czech national football squad knew coming into their opening match at Euro 2016 they were facing a powerhouse and an uphill battle: Spain, two-time defending champions and one of the best sides in Europe. The pressure was intense throughout; even so the Czechs remained in it until the dying minutes.
In Monday’s match, Czech team coach Pavel Vrba knew his players would have to leave everything on the floor if they hoped to eke out a point and they came close. The team visibly played to the fullest of its limits, with players repeatedly coming back to help in the penalty area, blocking or clearing a barrage of shots. Petr Čech himself made more than a few fine saves to keep the Czechs in it and indeed, the Czechs even had a few decent chances of their own on their own to break the deadlock, including a fine attempt by Hubník that was saved by Spain’s De Gea.
Mostly though, it was wave after wave of Spain coming forward and finally something had to give. Iniesta set up a perfect header which was slotted up close by Piqué. Čech could do little on the play.
Even then Darida had a chance to tie it in the final moments but fired at the goalkeeper: 1:0 it remained at FT. Graham Hunter for uefa.com wrote that while the match would be remembered as a “minimum win” it was “arguably a 2-0 or 3-1 result disguised as a 1-0 victory”. Spain’s dominance was certainly apparent throughout and had it not been for the heroics of Petr Čech and other players, the margin separating the teams would have been higher. Speaking to Czech Radio after the loss, Čech rued the missed opportunity, as a draw had been only minutes away.
“Of course we are disappointed because we held off the favourites for 86 minutes. Even though we were under intense pressure and even created some chances, the score was still tied and the point was within reach, which would have been great against such a team. But quality decided and they found the goal at the end.”
Asked whether he thought the Czech squad could have done more, Čech said this:
“I think we played to the fullest of our abilities. It is tough playing against them since they have enormous talent and creativity… The match required absolute concentration as danger could come at any moment. We played an excellent game and we helped each other, but unfortunately we didn’t get the result.”
The squad have a few days to recover and prepare now for Croatia, who already have three points after defeating Turkey. It is a safe bet that the Czech team’s strategy against Croatia will be much more offence-minded, with coach Vrba mindful of the fact that the Czechs now must secure points or face an early exit.
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