Who's booing now? Pique saves Spain as Iniesta rises to big occasion again

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The Barcelona pair combined brilliantly to give La Roja all three points with a late, late winner against Czech Republic in Toulouse


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Who's booing him now? Gerard Pique has been subjected to jeers and whistles by many Spain supporters because of his controversial comments about Real Madrid and also his Catalan roots, yet he was a hero for La Roja on Monday, heading home from inspirational club colleague Andres Iniesta in the closing stages.

Spain started strongly in Toulouse in their Euro 2016 opener. In search of a third straight title in this tournament, coach Vicente del Bosque picked David de Gea in goal despite the accusations aimed at the Manchester United goalkeeper this week. And in attack, Alvaro Morata started alongside David Silva and Nolito.

That front three, a Spanish MSN, struggled to break down the Czech Republic defence. Silva set up Morata for an excellent chance in the first half, but the Juventus striker shot straight at Petr Cech. The Arsenal goalkeeper was also quick off his line to deny Silva and saved comfortably from both Morata and Iniesta later on.

Iniesta was running the show. The Barcelona midfielder was everywhere: ghosting past rivals in midfield, curling wonderful passes into the area, even tracking back early in the second half to win the ball in his own half. But he couldn't do it all on his own and Spain's strikers flopped on a big afternoon. Morata's movement was good, but he has seldom looked entirely convincing for Spain and is not a classic centre-forward. Later on, when he was replaced by one, Aritz Aduriz, Del Bosque's side benefited from the more direct approach.

Nolito, meanwhile, spent too much time out wide and Silva, for all his quality and technique, was far too static. And despite Iniesta's intentions, Spain were within three minutes of becoming only the second team in 23 attempts to have played the Czechs and failed to score against them since November 2013. The other one was Malta.

Luckily, however, that sorry stat was avoided. Iniesta - who else? - curled a wonderful ball into the box and Pique headed home after 87 minutes to save Spain's blushes and secure a morale-boosting win in another tight match. And not a boo could be heard from the 8,000 or more Spain supporters inside the Stadium de Toulouse. As Sergio Ramos said before this match when asked about the fusion of Real Madrid and Barcelona players, club colours don't matter now - only the national team.



On that note, it is no secret that Pique probably would love to play for a Catalunya national team. But right now he plays for Spain and he has always given his best for La Roja. Present in a World Cup win and a European Championship success, the Barcelona defender is perhaps the world's best defender on current form and his header on Monday gave the team a huge lift when they needed it most.

"I think we played well," he said. "We controlled the game, but the ball just didn't want to go in. I was lucky enough to score, but the whole team was phenomenal. And what a pass from Iniesta, what quality."

The 28-year-old also revealed his young son was watching in the stands "with a Spain shirt on" and added: "We didn't panic at any time. We kept going. We knew how important it was to start off by winning the three points and we managed it in the end."

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Spain beat several sides 1-0 en route to the World Cup win in 2010 and also defeated Germany by the same scoreline in the final of Euro 2008. And although they had been expected to overcome the Czechs comfortably, only one match so far in this Euros, Germany's 2-0 victory over Ukraine, has been won by more than one clear goal.

So there is room for improvement, particularly in attack, but Iniesta's imperious performance and Pique's timely intervention mean it's a happy start for La Roja in Toulouse and there will be no jeers for the Barca defender from Spain's supporters in France this month.

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