An incredible late solo goal by Ivan Perišić gave Croatia victory against the holders and first place in UEFA EURO 2016 Group D, leaving Spain to face Italy in the round of 16.
Croatia knew before kick-off that they were definitely through along with Spain thanks to Northern Ireland’s loss to Germany, and there were five changes to the team that drew with the Czech Republic, partly enforced by injuries to Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić.
The holders had the same XI for the third game running and their understanding paid dividends in the first seven minutes as Álvaro Morata, on the day he officially returned to Real Madrid, claimed his third goal of the finals by finishing off a pass from Cesc Fàbregas after a flowing move that began in defence.
Nikola Kalinić then forced David de Gea to work, and Ivan Rakitić looped the ball on to the crossbar and off the post; Croatia were giving Spain a sterner test than in their previous matches. And just before half-time they were rewarded when a fine move culmtiated with a volleyed back-heel finish by Kalinić.
That pattern continued in the second half when a high-pressing Croatia game knocked Andrés Iniesta off his stride for the first time in these finals, coupled with some superb skill in attack to get around the Spain defence.
It seemed Spain would win when David Silva was fouled for a penalty but France-based Danijel Subašić brilliantly denied Sergio Ramos. Then Perišić beat the Spain defence and produced a cool finish to complete the turnaround.
Man of the match: Ivan Perišić (Croatia)
How could he not be after that winner? But then his work on the wing and some superb touches merited the award anyway, in a fine team display by Croatia.
That was a Croatia display as magnificent as that which Spain produced in their opening two games. Without so many key players they went for it from the start, not letting the Spain goal knock them off their stride. Both goals will be watched again and again by Croatia fans for years to come, and Subašić will enjoy looking back at his penalty save too.
Italy will feel a shudder
Italy have cruised to a group victory but even as they prepare for their last group game with the Republic of Ireland tomorrow, they will be concerned about what is to come on Monday. Especially after what happened in Kyiv on 1 July 2012 …
Spain still have daunting air
They weren’t the super Spain of previous games and their long run without conceding in a UEFA EURO finals (or in De Gea’s case in any competitive game) is over. But Spain, already through, clearly wanted to win this one to keep the momentum going into the knockouts.
Iniesta did not have the time to thrive that he had against the Czechs or Turkey, but he and his colleagues have done enough over the last few days to consolidate their reputation and put what occured in Brazil two years ago way in the past. Still, Italy next …