Croatia stunned Spain in Bordeaux to clinch top spot in Group D. The result means that Spain will now play Italy in Paris on Monday.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque resisted the temptation to rotate as he named an unchanged XI despite La Roja having already qualified for the latter stages of the competition. This will have been out of respect for Croatia, who are themselves a more than competent passing side, but also served as subtle reminder to the Spanish squad as to whom is in charge; Pedro being one in particular who made his feelings clear on his lack of involvement in an interview with Spanish broadcaster Movistar over the weekend.
Croatia Stun Spain in Bordeaux
Fans inside the Matmut Atlantique Stadium in Bordeaux didn’t have to wait long for Spain to take the lead. A beautiful passing move, started in defence by captain Sergio Ramos, saw Spain move the ball quickly through the lines. It eventually arrived at the feet of David Silva on the inside right channel. A delightful run from deep and a reverse pass to match saw Silva find the darting Cesc Fabregas. The midfielder had the awareness to dink the ball over the onrushing Croatian goalkeeper from the edge of the six yard box into the path of Alvaro Morata. Morata made sure from less than a yard out.
In reaction to the goal, the Croats passed and pressed high up the pitch well. It would have been easy to sit deep and soak up waves of further Spanish pressure. This almost paid off as David De Gea took too long to deal with a back pass; the ball squirming out to Ivan Rakitic. His chip beat De Gea and Gerard Pique who had dashed back to cover his goalkeeper; but a combination of post and crossbar denied Rakitic a second goal of the tournament and a Croatian equaliser.
Just before half time Croatia got the reward their hard work deserved as Nikola Kalinic scored with a delightful near post flick. The goal came following great work by Ivan Perisic on the left hand side. Perisic bamboozled right-back Juanfran and delivered a right footed cross to Kalinic who’s clever movement created space in front of Ramos. Kalinic’s finish levelled the score.
The second half started in the same vein as the first with Spain keeping a lion’s share of possession and Croatia pressing and hounding whenever the Spanish entered their territory. Perisic was proving an effective out-ball for Croatia as his skillful surging runs helped to release pressure on his defence.
In the 56th minute Del Bosque reacted to the increasingly competitive battle in midfield by adjusting his teams tactics. He removed Nolito and introduced Villarreal midfield general, Bruno Soriano. Ten minutes later he made further changes and replaced the hard working Morata with Aritz Aduriz. The Spanish manager was searching for more control by hoping to use the bigger framed Aduriz in attack to allow Spain to hold the ball up in the attacking third.
Moments later in the 69th minute, Silva was clipped in the box following a lobbed pass from Andres Iniesta. A penalty was given despite fierce protestations from the Croatian players. With Morata off the pitch, penalty taking duties were assumed by Ramos. The Real Madrid man stepped up and saw his effort saved by Danijel Subasic. The keeper strayed almost three yards off of his line in making the block. The fifth official behind the goal chose not to enforce a re-take.
As the pace of play took its toll on the players, both teams made further substitutions. Midfielder Matteo Kovacic for Croatia and Thiago for Spain were introduced into the game.
Man of the Match Perisic got his reward three minutes from time as Kalinic turned provider following a lightning counter attack, the forward feeding his compatriot on the left hand edge of the box, Perisic emphatically beating David De Gea at his near post to inspire wild scenes of celebration from the travelling Croatian fans.
Croatia fully deserved the win following an excellent performance, Spain needing to learn lessons from such games and ensure that they make the most of their opportunities when dominating. Italy will not be charitable in the forthcoming Round of 16 match. A huge contest awaits La Roja in Paris come Monday.