— UEFA EURO (@UEFAEURO) June 13, 2016
Reigning European Champions Spain kicked off their Euro 2016 campaign with a 1-0 win over Czech Republic in the first game of match day 4.
Alvaro Morata, Jordi Alba and David Silva all made early efforts on goal, but they were all saved by the brilliant Petr Cech. Czech Republic made a few efforts of their own in return, and defender Theodor Gebre came very close to scoring, but his headed effort was cleared off the goal line by Cesc Fabregas.
It was Barcelona’s star duo that finally broke the deadlock late in the game, as defender Gerard Pique headed in a delicious ball provided by Andres Iniesta in the 87th minute, thereby extending Spain’s unbeaten run in the European finals to 13 games.
Iniesta explained the tactic behind breaking down tight defences like Czech Republic’s, by stating: “There’s not a single solution to breaking down these teams. You have to keep pressing forward until you get what you want. The goal came the way it came – it just takes patience.”
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque was happy with the win, and said: “We created a lot of chances – we hope finishing will not be a problem. We had the game completely under control and that’s the most important thing.”
Czech Republic coach Pavel Vrba, on the other hand, expressed his disappointment by stating: “It’s disappointing to concede a goal so late. We could have scored ourselves, which doesn’t often happen against Spain. We played at our maximum level and it is a shame not to get at least a point.”
Czech Republic will now be hoping to win their next game against Croatia on June 17, whereas the Spaniards will look to extend their unbeaten run by beating Turkey on the same day in Nice.
The second game of match day 4 was played between Sweden and Republic of Ireland, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The game remained goalless in the first half, but midfielder Wes Hoolahan opened the scoring for Republic of Ireland after just three minutes into the second half with a wonderfully hit half volley.
The second goal of the game was also scored by an Irishman, as defender Ciaran Clark met a Zlatan Ibrahimovic cross with his head and sent the ball flying into his own net.
Wes Hoolahan, who became only the fourth Republic of Ireland player to score in the European Championship, had this to say about the game in his post-match interview: “The boys were unlucky but we’ll take the point. We created a lot of chances. In the first half we were excellent and at the start of the second as well. The boys should be proud of themselves, it’s a great point in the end.”
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill was delighted with his team’s performance despite getting only one point out of the game. He said: “I thought we were magnificent in the game with some really great football. Of course the goal deflates you and there is disappointment in the dressing room, but I don’t think the players should be downhearted with their performance. I think they should be absolutely thrilled with the way we played.”
Italy managed to secure a 2-0 win over Belgium, much to the surprise of everyone, in the final game of match day 4.
Emanuele Giaccherini opened the scoring for the Italians in the 32nd minute, converting Leonardo Bonucci’s 50-yard long pass into goal with a calm finish. Graziano Pelle grabbed Italy’s second and sealed the victory with a superb volley in injury time.
The Belgians failed to break Italy’s strong and collective defence, especially with Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi missing decent opportunities in front of goal.
Italy midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini summed up his team’s victory in the post-match interview by stating: “We all had to help each other and aim, when we had the ball, to hurt them. This is what the coach had asked of us. I’m happy because I and all of the others in this group, each time we put this shirt on, we know we’ve got the whole of Italy with us. Our defence was fantastic and I think we have the best defence in the Euros.”
He further added: “Against Sweden, it’s going to be difficult. Maybe we’ll have less defending to do than against Belgium, but it’s going to be tight and we’re going to struggle to find gaps.”
As mentioned by Giaccherini, Group E leaders Italy will now take on Sweden in Toulouse on Friday, whereas Republic of Ireland and Belgium will face-off in Bordeaux on Saturday.