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Euro 2016: Spain’s Gerard Pique scores in 87th minute for win over Czech Republic

Spain's Gerard Pique, second right, scores the opening

Spain's Gerard Pique, second right, scores the opening goal during the Euro 2016 Group D soccer match between Spain and the Czech Republic at the Stadium municipal in Toulouse, France, Monday, June 13, 2016. Credit: AP/ Hassan Ammar

TOULOUSE, France — Gerard Pique finally broke down the Czech Republic’s stubborn defense with a goal in the 87th minute to give Spain a 1-0 victory in the opening match of its European Championship title defense on Monday.

Pique ran behind the defenders and calmly headed the ball into the net after a well-placed cross by Andres Iniesta to give Spain the Group D victory.

“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 brilliant performance from Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech.

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

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

La Roja controlled possession and was on attack most of the time but couldn’t break down the Czechs’ resistance until Pique’s late header.

“If you keep insisting with this intensity, the goal will come,” Spain defender Sergio Ramos said. “We have to continue like this.”

Spain’s first good chance came in the 16th minute when David Silva’s cross found Alvaro Morata inside the area, but the Juventus striker had his close-range shot stopped by a reflex save by Cech. Morata threatened again in the 29th with a low shot just tipped wide by the goalkeeper, who made other good saves after shots by Jordi Alba and Silva before the break.

The Czechs barely threatened Spain goalkeeper David De Gea until Gebre Selassie’s header. The team’s lone chance in the first half came when Tomas Necid’s shot drew a save by De Gea in injury time.

De Gea was making his senior tournament debut despite getting embroiled in an off-the-field controversy just three days before the game, when his name appeared in a police investigation into a Spanish pornographic filmmaker.

It was Spain’s first win in the opening match of a major tournament since beating Russia 4-1 at Euro 2008. It had lost to Switzerland in the 2010 World Cup, drawn Italy in Euro 2012 and lost to the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup.

Spain won the last two European Championships but is trying to redeem itself from a disappointing early elimination in the World Cup in Brazil, when it arrived as the favorite but couldn’t make it out of the group stage.

The result extended Spain’s unbeaten streak at European Championships to 13 games, with 10 wins and three draws. It hasn’t lost since a 1-0 defeat by Portugal in 2004. It also hasn’t conceded a goal in the European tournament since its opener in 2012, a 1-1 draw against Italy, making it the longest tournament run.

Spain hasn’t lost a competitive match since October 2014, against Slovakia in qualifying for Euro 2016. It has won nine straight competitive games, and the last four against the Czechs.

The Czechs have not had a clean sheet in competitive matches since 2013.

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