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Spain showed it's best to be both lucky and good

Spain looked dominant against the Czech Republic on Monday, but things could still have finished very differently.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Spain nicked a last-gasp victory over Czech Republic in their Euro 2016 opener on Monday, with Vicente del Bosque's side only breaking the deadlock in the final few minutes. Having dominated possession and peppering Petr Čech's goal with shots, Gerard Piqué's late winner was greeted by cries of  "about time too." And yet, it was paradoxically as good an example as there'll ever be that control in soccer, that concept to which pundits and analysts invariably refer when evaluating performance, is ultimately only ever an illusion. A guide, perhaps, but as inexact a science as any.

To put it simply, Spain could -- and maybe should -- have won by a much bigger margin. Yes, the Czechs turned in a performance of impressive defensive discipline, and their coach's strategy of packing the area between the defense and midfield was a simple but effective one. With Cesc Fàbregas turning in an ineffectual display and nominal wingers David Silva and Nolito looking surprisingly reluctant to wander infield, starting striker Álvaro Morata spent much of the match looking rather isolated. Andrés Iniesta resorted to an uncharacteristic number of shots from outside the area, and indeed took as many in this match as he did in the entire La Liga season just gone.

But through a sheer weight of pressure, Spain still managed to carve a few good openings. Simple probability dictates that if you spend sufficient time in your opponent's third, eventually you're going to find a gap. And that they did. They were statistically completely dominant, enjoying a huge share of possession (70 percent by the final count, though it was higher than that in an impressive first half) and having the lion's share of shots. The Czech Republic could hardly string a couple of passes together. Spain were in absolute control.

But as a wise man once said, football's a funny old game. And that mysterious mixture of strategy and misfortune contrived to keep the Spaniards at bay. Growing in confidence in the second period, the Czechs looked a little more effective on the counter attack, and managed to hold a little possession of their own. Not much, but suddenly Spain fans would have been having flashbacks to their humiliating elimination from the World Cup two years ago. All of the control, and still an overwhelming sense of uncertainty.

Piqué's 87th-minute breakthrough would therefore have come accompanied with a great sense of relief. "You can't say they didn't deserve it," the commentators cried. And yet even then, the control was meaningless. A lapse in concentration, a twist of fate and a volley from Vladimír Darida in stoppage time could've changed the result and the narrative; in a second Spain would've faded from an unstoppable force to an impotent object. But they were lucky, and David de Gea's fists ensured they held their lead to the final whistle.

On paper, it was a comfortable victory for a team in total control. But things could have been so different. Even the most statistically dominant victories can be built on the shakiest foundations.