Croatia, missing their injured playmaker Luka Modric, came from behind to stun Spain 2-1 to finish top of Euro 2016 Group D here on Tuesday, sending the defending champions to the runners-up.
Croatia coach Ante Cacic said, “It is an important result for us. We beat defending champions and proved to be a strong team.”
“There is no big problem for Modric and I am happy at that, ” Cacic added.
Croatia stayed at the top with seven points, followed by Spain with six, Turkey three, the Czech Republic one.
Spain coach Vicente de Bosque said, “That is football. We controlled the game, but the result is not ideal.”
“I think we played well. We will try to prepare for the knockout match against Italy. It’s Monday and we still have time,” Bosque added.
Italy had definitely been the Group E winner to face Group D runners-up in the Round of 16.
Before the Croatia-Spain game, both teams had already ensure the tickets to the last 16 and fought for a better placing.
“I want to test young players and I changed five players today. I think the Spanish team respected us, starting with the best lineup, ” Cacis said.
Both sides played at ease, showcasing high-level skills and tactics to please the fans.
Only seven minutes into the game, Juventus forward Alvaro Morata scored his third goal in the tournament to put Spain into a 1-0 lead. He tapped in a delightful move from close range, with David Silva and Cesc Fabregas in the build-up.
Croatia were so close to an equaliser in the 14th minute when a mistake from Spain keeper David de Gea left a shooting opportunity for the Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic who chipped a perfectly judged effort towards goal. But the ball cannoned back off the crossbar, and the goal-line technology showed that the ball was just on the line.
Fiorentina forward Nikola Kalinic tied the score 1-1 for Croatia in the 45th minute with a magic twist dink in a cross.
In the 72nd minute, Spain defender and captain Sergio Ramos squandered the best chance to take the lead again, missing a penalty kick conceded by Croatian defender Sime Vrsaljko for a foul on Silva.
Ramos’ placed effort was too straight and too close to the Croatia keeper Danijel Subasic who palmed the ball away.
Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic scored the crucial goal for Croatia in the 87th minute with perfect counter attack. He stroke the ball beyond De Gea courtesy of a slight deflection off the defender.
Perisic was voted the Man of the Match with a goal and an assist. He said, “This was a really special evening for us, big honor for me to play for croatian team.
“I told an Italian reporter before that you should be happy not playing Croatia,” he added.
The statistics showed that Spain still enjoyed 60 percent of ball possession and completed 603 passes against Croatia’s 245. But Croatia looked more sharpness and willingness to win.