Euro 2016

Iniesta still key to Spanish hopes amid fresh faces

Spanish players during a training session of the Spanish team at Stade de Nice in Nice, France, on June 16. Spain will face Turkey on June 17.
Spanish players during a training session of the Spanish team at Stade de Nice in Nice, France, on June 16. Spain will face Turkey on June 17.PHOTO: EPA


Spain v Turkey

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NICE • 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.

An opening defeat at the 2010 World Cup, and draw at the 2012 European Championship ultimately counted for little as Spain won both competitions.

However, after a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Netherlands resulted in a first-round exit from the 2014 World Cup, Spain breathed a sigh of relief with their 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, giving veteran coach del Bosque plenty of selection headaches for their second Group D tie.

The two-time defending champions dominated possession and managed 18 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 faces making their major tournament 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 Spain's new faces, it was the 32-year-old Andres Iniesta who ran the show for Spain, even without his retired long-time partner Xavi Hernandez at his side, as he made Pique's goal with an inch-perfect cross.

"He is fundamental for us," said Iniesta's Barcelona team-mate 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, after they were outclassed when losing 0-1 to Croatia on Sunday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2016, with the headline 'Iniesta still key to Spanish hopes amid fresh faces'. Subscribe