Group C
Croatia 0-1 Spain



The Spain players gathered to celebrate after their late winning goal secured their place in the last eight while sending Croatia home 



By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from PGE Arena, Gdansk

An out-of-sorts Spain progress to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 as a late winner from Jesus Navas gave them a table-topping victory over a brave Croatia.  

The Sevilla winger netted with three minutes left to play with a simple tap-in from Andres Iniesta's unselfish squared pass as the reigning world and European champions looked ordinary despite dictating the momentum to finish at the top of the Group C standings with seven points while Croatia bow out of the tournament after Italy's 2-0 victory over fourth-placed Republic of Ireland with Slaven Bilic taking charge of his final match before moving on to Lokomotiv Moscow.

Croatia changed their system and a couple of their personnel to match their opponents' tactics after a 1-1 draw with Italy last week with Everton's Nikica Jelavic dropping out with Mario Mandzukic leading the line having scored against the Italians while Ivan Rakitic was also displaced in the team by defender Domagoj Vida for his first appearance of the tournament with captain Darijo Srna moving into his more accustomed midfield position. Bayern Munich's Daniel Pranjic also came into the side.

Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque unsurprisingly named an unchanged line-up from the side which destroyed the Republic of Ireland in their previous match to knock the Irish out of Euro 2012 with Chelsea's Fernando Torres, who scored twice in that game, continuing in attack while former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, also the scorer of two goals at Poland & Ukraine already, left kicking his heels on the bench once more. Sergio Busquets was passed fit after injurying his foot during the victory over the Irish on Thursday.

With nine goals scored in the sides's games so far, a goalfest was anticipated with both teams knowing that the winners of this game would qualify and top the group which promised a riveting contest in store for the neutral observers as the two teams met competitively for the first time. The riprawing start to the game looked to be obliging to this conspiracy theory with a terrifically open beginning in a red-hot and intense atmosphere in Gdansk.



France are the last team to score more than once against Spain in a match at a major tournament (in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup).


Boss Bilic wisely aborted Croatia's attacking principles to congest the midfield outlining a more intellectual agenda thus matching Spain while looking to nullify the threat of the Spanish creativity in the middle of the park. With problems in their opening two games in terms of the behaviour of fans, it was likely that the Croatian fans would cause a stir here as flares started to be thrown amongst their supporters with smoke starting to hang over the pitch which momentarily saw play come to a hault.

The Croats were pressing high up the pitch early on as the array of talent for Del Bosque's side looked errant in their early possession and a little off the pace at times. The first effort of any note at goal was a tame prod from Andres Iniesta from an exquisite pass into his feet by Manchester City's David Silva which lacked any power or control rolling through to goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.

Spain- unbeaten in sixteen competitive matches since the first game of the 2010 World Cup- built from the back with the two full-backs Arbeloa and Jordi Alba venturing forward playing like wingers throughout. They continued to be dominant in possession with their passing easy on the eye with doors beginning to open for them slowly but surely with the fans finding their voice with the noise reverberating around the ground. The Croatian players were beginning to get a little frustrated as they looked to break up the play and interrupt the flow by giving away soft fouls. The flow and fluidity wasn't as flawless as normal however the Spanish still had the impetus.

Holding their own, the Croats remained disciplined and were a tough nut for the reigning world and European champions to crack in the first half with the first save of any sort from a goalkeeper coming when forward Fernando Torres jinked away from Schildenfeld in the right channel and blasted one goalwards from an acute angle which Pletikosa blocked at the near. Pique strode forward and dipped an effort narrowly over while Casillas showed that his concentration levels were still sky high when getting down low to save from Daniel Pranjic's low shot at the other end.

There was a strong and high tackle from Sergio Ramos on Mario Mandzukic which angered Croatia with the referee awarding a corner kick rather than a free-kick while defender Vedran Corluka was shown a yellow card by the German official Wolfgang Stark for berating the decision. In an uneventful first period, the staggering percentages of possession but not showing urgency in the final third despite looking to utilise the space they were given in the latter stages of the half with Silva looking to find the gaps in the defence as goalscoring chances were at a premium.



Croatia have not lost any of their last six matches at European Championship finals.


The tempo slightly increased as the second half action got underway however Spain couldn't effectively penetrate the Croatians with no cohesion or sharpness in their passing which was seen in abundance during their previous clash against Trapattoni's Ireland. Spain were much still in second gear but Croatia created the game's best chance by long way as Luka Modric ran the channels well when getting past Jordi Alba before crossing superbly with the outside of his right foot for Ivan Rakitic creeping in unnoticed to head from six yards but it was magnificently kept out by Casillas reacting quickly. It was the clearest sighting of goal in the game coming after 58 minutes.

With the Spaniards devoid of ideas, the withdrawal of Torres on the hour mark for Jesus Navas looked to take away their main goal threat as the Croats, resolute in defence, looked to have more adventure in their play with the introduction of Ivan Perisic and Nikica Jelavic from the substitutes bench as they knew that they needed to find a goal to stay in the tournament with the Italian's leading in their game.

The panic buttons were not being pressed yet for the Spanish with Navas bringing a different dimension to their play as they pushed on for a winner while offering more width. At the opposite end, Borussia Dortmund's Perisic skied a volley high and wildly over the crossbar after pulling away from Arbeloa at the back post as the Croatians valiantly tried to counter attack in the hope of conjuring one more opportunity which could make the difference. Spain were in a precarious position whereby a Croatian goal would knock them out of the tournament as they sat second in the group as the match went into the final ten minutes.

Perisic tried another volley which Casillas fielded well while Iniesta forced Pletikosa to block at the near post with Navas soon after denied by the legs of the ex-Tottenham and Spartak Moscow goalkeeper between the sticks for Croatia going for sheer power. The match looked to be heading for a draw which would have been only Spain's third in their last 38 games, but the goal finally arrived. The deadlock was finally broken on 88 minutes for Spain as Fabregas lofted a pass to an onside Iniesta who brought the ball down imperiously before squaring for his colleague who had the simple of task of putting the ball into the empty net as the Croatian defence was unlocked at long last.

Croatia huffed and puffed in the dying minutes of stoppage time but to no avail as the Spanish, looking to become the first international team to win three successive major tournaments, set up a quarter-final on Saturday in Donetsk against the runners-up of Group D which will be one of England, France and Ukraine.



ANALYSIS:  Croatia 0-1 Spain
Adam Higgins- Chief Football Editor reporting in Gdansk

"Spain were far from their best but just managed to do enough and their pressure paid off. Their European status came before them and they proved that they could win a match that had nothing in it however they were far from convincing. They will probably be disappointed to have just 62% of the ball although they didn't do enough with the ball. Even in the second half when you expected them to up the tempo and increase the pressure, they still couldn't zip the ball around quickly as they normally do so fluently. They barely created a chance and in the end it was a solitary goal from a bit part player off the bench. We saw Germany find a win from a relatively lacklustre display last night and this was similar from Del Bosque's men. Croatia can consider themselves incredibly unfortunate to be going out of the tournament after giving a good account of themselves in all three matches. They probably had the best chance of the game other than the goal that Spain scored."  





Monday 18th June                        UEFA Euro 2012: Poland & Ukraine                    Group C                     PGE Arena, Gdansk

Croatia 0-1 Spain                                                       KO 7:45pm                       Live on BBC1/HD                    (HT 0-0)

                     Jesus Navas 88






1 Stipe Pletikosa-  7.5/10  Was more involved making several routine stops in the second half, his distribution was good with his kicking up to scratch but nothing whatsoever to do in opening 45 minutes which was unusual considering they are playing against the best team in the world.

21 Domagoj Vida-  6/10  Came in and showed that he could fill the right-back void competently, wasn't up against a natural winger but stayed relatively solid, lack of match practice was probably the reason why he was withdrawn. 

5 Vedran Corluka-  7.5/10  Stronger in the air from setpieces in both boxes and looks as though he has worked on his defensive game. Only had Torres to deal with in first half and had him in his back pocket in truth. Got infront of the forward on numerous occasions.

13 Gordon Schildenfeld-  9/10  Had a blinding match which was a real surprise- did everything right, kept himself in shape and position, read the match well and got some crucial blocks in and intervened when attempted through-balls were played.

2 Ivan Strinic-  7.5/10  Has a good left foot and was one of the main reasons why Croatia had held on for so long, was tested more by Navas however stayed firm against him but was one of players looking for an offside flag for goal.

8 Ognjen Vukojevic-  7/10  Covered alot of ground and was a real workhorse for the side- got stuck in, tackled well and knew when to press the Spaniards in certain situations.

7 Ivan Rakitic-  7/10  Had a great headed chance in game which was probably the best opportunity of match- his efforts were good, putting in a good shift to deny the Spanish time and space in first half an hour.

10 Luka Modric-  8.5/10  Modric was the best Croatian player on night desperate to perform on the big stage and make an impression which he did. Kept his composure on ball and always made himself available for his team-mates.

11 Darijo Srna (C)-  7.5/10  Moved into the position which he is more comfortable in and we saw a good mature display from him in the middle of the park- keeping his discipline was important.

6 Daniel Pranjic-  6.5/10  Brought in because he can play at left-back therefore helped to stop the Spanish full-backs from getting forward- got up and down working relatively hard in both halves of the field.

17 Mario Mandzukic-  7/10  The forward tried to put himself about in first half and he was key to them going for the goal and win with his threat- a player who caught the eye and caused one or two problems.


Substitutes bench:-
12 Kelava (GK), 23 Subasic (GK), 3 Simunic, 4 Buljat, 15 Vrsaljko 14 Badelj, 16 Dujmovic, 19 Kranjcar, 20 Perisic, 9 Jelavic, 18 Kalinic, 22 Eduardo Da Silva.


Subs used:

Perisic (for Pranjic-  65 mins)-  3.5/10  The Borussia Dortmund must have felt aggreived for being left out and his performance of bench showed glimpses of the qualities he has in his locker.

Jelavic (for Vida-  65 mins)-  3/10  The introduction of the goalscoring machine and Everton forward didn't have the desired effect for Bilic as he barely got a touch or any service up to him.

Eduardo Da Silva (for Vukojevic-  81 mins)-  1.5/10  A couple of touches that were neat which contributed to the Croatias producing one or two late forays up the pitch in the latter stages.


Booked:      Corluka (27), Srna (44), Strinic (53), Mandzukic 
               (88), Jelavic (90), Rakitic (90+2)


Sent-off:        None






1 Iker Casillas (C)-  7/10  Had a couple of important saves to make in the second half after being a spectator for opening 45 minutes- Perisic and Rakitic kept out well by Spanish captain.

17 Alvaro Arbeloa-  5.5/10  Had a very poor game it has to be said, for a full-back to be torn apart like he was in the second half in a team like this is very surprising. Not a solid looking performer and on basis of this poor display, a potential weakness point.

3 Gerard Pique-  7.5/10  Didn't have the greatest match, didn't read the game to his normal high standards, had first half shot over bar but had Jelavic and Mandzukic had both started, he would have struggled to contain them.

15 Sergio Ramos-  7/10  He has had to turn into a centre-back with Puyol missing- a position he doesn't like that much. Doesn't like the physical, muscular centre-forwards but to be fair he didn't have a lot to do- some of his tackling was mistimed.

18 Jordi Alba-  6.5/10  A left-back who loves to bomb forward which he did but was exposed occasionally in the second half while some of his throw-ins were going straight to Croatia players.

8 Xavi Hernandez-  7.5/10  May have racked up a Euros record for passes against the Irish, but his passing wasn't as effective in this game, more simple and slow. Mainly taking corners.

14 Xabi Alonso-  7.5/10  His passing range is normally good and it started off that way with some lovely first time balls to his colleagues although he faded out and was quiet- barely seen.

16 Sergio Busquets-  6.5/10  Did little to justify his selection in side once more ahead of more stella names such as Fabregas and Mata. Sat infront of back four, stayed in same circle of pitch with his passes moving no further than five yards away.

6 Andres Iniesta-  7/10  Quiet in first half but made some positive runs in second period- passing not as sharp as previous games. Can create something from nothing. Set up the winning goal for Spain.

9 Fernando Torres-  6.5/10  Couldn't get a chance in first half, tried his best and put in effort but his midfielders couldn't pass it in behind to him with Croatia cutting off the supply lines. Taken off after an hour.

21 David Silva-  7.5/10  Was the player for the Spanish in the first half who looked the most likely to make something happen for them, his passing was the best on the pitch- surprised to see him taken off in second period.


Substitutes bench:-
12 Valdes (GK), 23 Reina (GK), 2 Raul Albiol, 4 Javi Martinez, 5 Juanfran, 10 Fabregas, 20 Cazorla, 22 Jesus Navas, 7 Pedro, 13 Mata, 11 Negredo, 19 Llorente.


Subs used:

Jesus Navas (for Torres-  60 mins)-  4.5/10  Made the impact and difference for Spain in terms of drawing and winning this game by scoring the goal late on and looked a bright spark.

Fabregas (for Silva-  72 mins)-  3/10  Clipped the pass forward cleverly over head of defenders to Iniesta- he helped to increase the fluidity and up the tempo in the final minutes when Spain needed some speed and creativity.

Negredo (for Xavi-  89 mins)-  0.5/10  No time to do anything to change game for his side offensively, was mainly stood in his own box defending a couple of corners in stoppage time.


Booked:      None


Sent-off:        None  

My Man of the Match:    Gordon Schildenfeld (Croatia)- Rating 9/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:    Alvaro Arbeloa (Spain)- Rating 5.5/10  



Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)- 9/10
Attendance: 38,371



Match Facts:

Possession: Croatia- 38%                  Spain- 62%

Shots at goal: Croatia- 6                    Spain- 16

Shots on target: Croatia- 3                   Spain- 13

Shots off target: Croatia- 3                  Spain- 7

Corners: Croatia- 4                     Spain- 11

Fouls: Croatia- 16                     Spain- 16

Offsides: Croatia- 0                    Spain- 1

Assists: Croatia- 0                    Spain- 1 (Iniesta)






Croatia head coach Slaven Bilic:  "We had our plan. We were playing the world and European champions – a team hungry for trophies – and we tried to neutralise them. We were waiting for them at the back in the first half; we weren't keen to attack them at that stage. We waited for the last 30 minutes of the game to take risks. Spain had a hard time against us. We could have won tonight, we went close. It isn't easy to play against them but we knew we would have two or three chances. We had a clear one with Rakitić. That's an opportunity you really have to take against Spain. We deserved a more positive result. They were great, not just in this game but in the others too, in what was a very strong group. I didn't expect that this would be my last match. I was sure we would go through. But to play Spain is not easy, they are such a good tactical side. I will leave here and join my new team [FC Lokomotiv Moskva] in the next few days, and I would like to say thank you to the Croatian Football Federation for taking a chance on me six years ago when I was a young coach without much experience. There were never any problems with the players or the staff in these six years. I enjoyed every minute. I will go on as a coach but will never be as proud as I am now because being national coach is a unique experience."

Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque:  "We were lacking penetration – they closed up the spaces well and that caused us a lot of problems. We had some nervous moments, especially when Iker Casillas made that save [from Ivan Rakitić's header]. We talked before the game and knew they were going to play the way they did. In the end my players resolved a messy issue that a draw might have represented. It was a difficult win and one we had to battle for, as our opponents did. I think we had 17 shots on goal to their eight. We had more corners and more possession. They played a good game and counterattacked with menace but I thought we were the better team. The changes I made [taking off Fernando Torres for example] were to give us a cutting edge on the right. Our first touch tonight maybe wasn't what it should have been though, and that caused the game to be a bit slower. The result was a good one for our team. When you don't have your greatest game but manage to win, it gives you confidence. I have no preferences regarding who we face in the next round. We will just look to play well and resolve whatever issues arise out on the pitch."  


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