After leaving it late to get past the Czech Republic, Spain will look to seal a place in the knockout phase of Euro 2016 when taking on Turkey in Nice on Friday. As so often in recent times, Spain dominated possession but struggled to find a decisive touch in front of goal in its opening game. Crucially, though, Vicente del Bosque’s side came up with a goal to get its attempt to win an unprecedented third straight European Championship off to winning start.
Gerard Pique headed in with three minutes remaining after Spain had huffed and puffed in Toulouse to no avail. And that will have been a huge relief for Del Bosque, given the prevailing narrative coming into the tournament of the team's struggles to find a reliable goalscorer. With Diego Costa left at home, the two strikers named in the squad began Euro 2016 with just four international goals between them.
The issue of how to get a more clinical streak in a side that could also only win 1-0 at Belarus and Macedonia in qualifying remains. Against the Czech Republic, Juventus forward Alvaro Morata got the start, but a player who can be so devastating on the counterattack struggled to make an impact in the ultimate possession side and failed to make the most of the openings that did fall his way. Morata lasted just past the hour mark before being replaced by 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz, who has been rewarded for outstanding form for Athletic Bilbao with a late chance at a major championship.
For Del Bosque, though, at least publicly, the fact that his side got the three points is all that counts.
“The important thing is that we got the three points in the first game, and we need to prepare for this game without being distracted by the first one,” he said in his pre-match press conference. We also have to approach this game expecting Turkey to make it really difficult for us. They are a great team who play great football. They have great players, and we have to prepare ourselves for the difficulties they will pose us.”
And there were positives for Spain beyond just the result. Chief among them was the performance of Andres Iniesta, who laid on the winning goal. Player of the tournament as Spain made it back-to-back Euro titles four years ago, the 32-year-old has now assumed the main playmaking role following the international retirement of Xavi. And he showed against the Czechs just how sublime a player he remains.
Iniesta’s continued brilliance for club and country is one of the reasons Turkey’s star man struggled for playing time last season. Arda Turan was signed by Barcelona from Atletico Madrid last summer, but had to wait until January to make his competitive debut due to the Catalan club’s transfer ban. Yet even after he was available, he found opportunities few and far between in a team that completed a league and cup double.
The 29-year-old showed signs of rust in his side’s opening game of the tournament as Turkey went down to a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Croatia and Turan was substituted after 65 minutes. While accepting he wasn’t at his best, he rallied against the intensity of the criticism directed his way.
“Personally, I played badly and was ineffective,” he told Uefa.com. “However, these things happen in life. I'll try my best to do better in the next match. But I really find it hard to understand the way people react at times. I've worn the shirt over 90 times, I have played badly a few times, but you could count them on the fingers of one hand. I'm just trying to stand tall for my country and my national team.”
Turan vowed that Turkey would be striving to earn a draw against Spain and get a point that would keep the side in contention for a place in the knockout phase heading into its final group game against the Czech Republic. A win for Spain would seal its progress with a match against Croatia still to spare.
Prediction: Turkey can play an awful lot better than it did against Croatia and will likely have to if it is to come away with a positive result against Spain. With the quality Fatih Terim’s side possesses in midfield, it can certainly pose a threat. However, Spain should be more relaxed after getting an opening win under its belts and that could help secure another narrow victory against a Turkey team also lacking a clinical touch in the final third.
Predicted score: Spain 1-0 Turkey
Kickoff Time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN