European champions Spain are often slow starters at major tournaments, but after Gerard Pique’s late winner in their Euro 2016 opener, Vicente del Bosque’s men already have the last 16 in sight when they take on Turkey on Friday.
An opening defeat at the 2010 World Cup, and draw at the 2012 European Championship ultimately counted for little as Spain won both tournaments.
But after a disastrous 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands provoked a first-round exit from the 2014 World Cup, Spain breathed a sigh of relief with the 1-0 win against the Czech Republic in Toulouse on Monday.
Spain are now unbeaten in 13 European Championship games, but question marks remain over the potency of their attack to give veteran coach Del Bosque plenty of selection headaches for their second Group D tie.
The two-time defending champions dominated possession and managed 17 shots on goal, but had to wait until the 87th minute for centre-back Pique to head home at the back post.
One of several new Spain faces making their major finals debut, Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz sat on the bench as Juventus marksman Alvaro Morata spurned a hatful of chances in front of Petr Cech’s goal.
Aduriz replaced Morata for the last 20 minutes, but failed to make a big impact as he sent a speculative overhead kick wide of the target with his best effort.
“The important thing is we won and took the points. That’s crucial for any first game,” Aduriz said.
Del Bosque also handed European Championship debuts to Celta Vigo winger Nolito and Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, although neither are guaranteed to start against Turkey.
Despite the new-look Spain, it was the 32-year-old Andres Iniesta who ran the show for Spain, even without his retired long-time partner Xavi at his side, as he made the goal for Pique with an inch-perfect cross.
Two days after the game, Spanish sports daily AS still marvelled at Iniesta’s sublime performance, splashing: “Global astonishment!” on its front page on Wednesday.
“He is fundamental for us,” said Iniesta’s Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets.
“His ability to destabilise the opposition is unbelievable. And as the years go by, he just gets better.”
Turkey need to at least avoid defeat to keep their Euro 2016 dreams alive.
Fatih Terim’s side entered the tournament on a promising vein of form having lost just one of their previous 16 games, but were outclassed in losing 1-0 to Croatia at the Parc des Princes on Sunday.
Previously fancied by many to make it out of a difficult group, their star talents like Arda Turan, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Hakan Calhanoglu were far from their best.
In fact, the Turks were lucky to lose by just a one-goal margin with Croatia captain Darijo Srna and Ivan Perisic both hitting the woodwork, in addition to Luka Modric’s spectacular match-winning volley.
Terim said that his team had “dropped physically” in the second half, while Barcelona’s Turan, who was substituted in the 65th minute, asked for “forgiveness” on Turkish television.
Against a Spain side seeking to nail down a slot in the knockout stages, Turkey have an uphill battle to salvage their prospects of progressing in France.