Spain’s attempt to win a record third European Championship in a row began with a last-gasp 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic at the Municipal Stadium in Toulouse today.
Gerard Pique headed in a late Andres Iniesta cross, finally breaking the resistance of their stubborn opponents.
Alvaro Morata, Jordi Alba and David Silva had earlier efforts saved as the holders lacked a cutting edge.
Spain had also survived a scare when Cesc Fabregas hooked a Theodor Gebre Selassie header off the goalline.
Vladimir Darida had a chance to equalise but Spain keeper David de Gea, who started the game after a build-up dominated by allegations against him in the Spanish press, blocked his volley from 10 yards.
In another game today Emanuele Giaccherini and Graziano Pelle scored as Italy began their Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-0 victory over much-fancied Belgium at the Stade des Lumieres in Lyon.
Sunderland’s Giaccherini slotted home in the first half after collecting Leonardo Bonucci’s superb long pass. Southampton’s Pelle sealed the win in injury time with an emphatic volley following an incisive break.
Belgium were very disappointing, with Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi wasteful in front of goal. Everton forward Lukaku curled over from the edge of the box with just the keeper to beat while Liverpool’s Origi missed two opportunities to head his side level.
Before the tournament began some pundits condemned this Italy squad for a lack of quality, and even coach Antonio Conte said: “It isn’t a good time for our football.”
The soon-to-be-Chelsea boss added: “It’s important the squad has a good spirit. I work a lot at this.”
On the evidence of this game, that is not the only thing he has worked at.
Italy’s triumph was a result of superior organisation and discipline against 11 Belgian individuals who appear to possess, on paper at least, the greater talent.
Meanwhile Ciaran Clark scored an agonising own goal as the Republic of Ireland were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against Sweden in their opening fixture at the Stade de France in Paris.
Wes Hoolahan gave the Republic a deserved lead shortly after half-time with a crisply struck half-volley worthy of opening the scoring in any match.
Martin O’Neill’s team had struck the woodwork and gone close several times prior to scoring.
But, after taking the lead they found themselves under increasing pressure and conceded when Clark, chosen ahead of Richard Keogh in the centre of defence, headed a low cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic into his own net.
The equaliser came from one of the few moments of quality from the Sweden captain, who collected a neat backheel from substitute John Guidetti and raced to the byeline before drilling in a low cross.
Jeff Hendrick drew a late save from Andreas Isaksson but there was to be no winner at the end of a feisty, scrappy match the Republic shaded but could not close out.