- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2016

SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) - David Lafata isn’t dwelling on his mistake that allowed Spain’s Gerard Pique to head in the one and only goal in the Czech Republic’s first match at the European Championship.

Lafata came on as a substitute in that match and was supposed to be marking Pique when Andres Iniesta whipped in the cross that Pique carefully guided into the Czech net in the 87th minute.

The 34-year-old is looking forward to the opportunity to make amends on Friday in Saint-Etienne against a Croatia side that beat Turkey in the other Group D match.

“There was a series of mistakes. I should have marked Pique, and Iniesta who crossed the ball should have been under bigger pressure,” he said. “I knew I was Pique’s marksman, but that’s football.”

Lafata, a prolific goal scorer for his club side Sparta Prague is one of the Czech fans’ favorites alongside the likes of Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky. His five goals in a Champions League match in 2014, something that’s only been matched by Lionel Messi, has elevated his status certainly inside the country if not outside.

Despite scoring twice on his Czech debut a decade ago, Lafata has rarely translated his club form into the international arena, netting just nine times in 40 appearances.

Lafata said the match the game against Croatia could be “key” especially as it takes place after Spain has played Turkey.

“There is no reason to panic,” Lafata said.

If Lafata endures another day of frustration against Croatia, Czech Republic coach Pavel Vrba could opt for talented youngsters such as winger Ladislav Krejci, midfielder Vladimir Darida and Sparta Prague playmaker Borek Dockal.

Croatia looks settled, with the likes of Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic headlining a talented group that also includes Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic.

“With the stars playing at Real and Barcelona, they can be nicknamed small Spain,” Vrba said. “We know another tough game is awaiting us.”

Captain Darijo Srna is also available. Srna traveled back to Croatia to attend his dad’s funeral following the 1-0 win over Turkey. He has since rejoined the squad.


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