Spain break Czech Republic’s heart, Ireland’s own goal hands Sweden draw

Gerard Pique finally broke down the Czech Republic’s stubborn defence in the final minutes, giving defending champion, Spain, a 1-0 victory yesterday at the European Championship.

Pique ran behind the defenders and calmly headed the ball into the net after a well-placed cross by Andres Iniesta in the 87th minute.

“It was an incredible pass by Iniesta,” Pique said. “It was very important to start with the three points. We played very well, we controlled the game but it seemed the ball didn’t want to go in.”

The two-time defending champions had created a series of scoring chances throughout the match at the Stadium de Toulouse. But they looked set to being denied victory by a combination of poor finishing and a superb performance from Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech.

“It is not the first time we’ve had this kind of game, this kind of opponent,” said Iniesta, who was voted the best player of the match.

“There’s not a single way to break down these teams, you have to be patient, be calm, and keep going forward for as long as it takes.”

The Czechs had a chance to break the deadlock in the 65th but Cesc Fabregas saved Spain with a goal-line clearance after a header by Theodor Gebre Selassie.

The result left Spain and Croatia at the top of Group D with three points each. Croatia defeated Turkey 1-0 on Sunday.

In another game yesterday, Ireland conceded an own goal to hand Sweden a share of the spoils in their opening encounter.

Ireland got the opener through a sweet half volley struck by 34-year-old Wes Hoolahan, who is still operating at the peak of his powers.

But Sweden equalised through a Ciran Clark own goal. Ibrahimovic surged past John O’Shea and struck a cross that panicked Ciaran Clark at the near post. Worried about what lurked on his blind side, he ducked in and tried to head it out on his blind side, but powered the ball past Randolph instead and into the net.

•Culled from

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