Substitute Jesus Navas’s 88th minute winner was enough to secure Spain’s passage to the next round of the competition and subsequently send a brave Croatian side home.
Navas thumped his late strike into an empty net, after team-mate Andres Iniesta had squared him the ball having been adjudged onside from a Cesc Fabregas through pass.
The goal came as a relief for Vicente Del Bosque’s side, who looked out of ideas up until the goal in a tense and somewhat cagey affair in Gdansk.
Croatia will feel they could have taken the three points themselves, with only a fine stop from Iker Casillas denying Ivan Rakitic’s close range header.
Both teams came into this clash knowing that a win would see either team top the group, while a high scoring draw would secure both sides passage to the next round.
In a game of few opportunities, Fernando Torres’s clever footwork and drive across goal from out-wide was about as close as either team came in the first half, with Croatia doing a fantastic job of stopping Spain’s midfield engine-room moving up through the gears.
It could have all been so different for Spain had it not been for Iker Casillas. His fine close range save from Rakitic’s header, after brilliant work from Luka Modric, kept his side in the competition.
Sensing change was needed, Del Bosque opted to take off two of his most attacking players – David Silva and Fernando Torres – and replaced them with Cesc Fabregas and Navas respectively.
It was Navas who looked Spain’s brightest player as the game wore on, with his wide play causing the Croatian defence all sorts of problems, despite not having a striker to pick out in the box.
Sergio Busquets summed up Spain’s reluctance to shoot at goal when he was put through by Iniesta, only to turn back toward where the ball came from instead of unleashing a strike.
Chasing a goal, Croatia started sending more and more bodies forward, and eventually the breakthrough came – but for Spain.
Fabregas was able to find himself with room in-front of the Croatian defence, and sumptuously beat the offside trap with a deft chip over the top for Iniesta, who had the presence of mind to roll the ball across goal and leave Navas with the simplest of finishes.
The goal was enough to win it for Spain and they top the group with seven points – two ahead of rivals Italy. Spain will now play the runners up of group B in the quarter finals on Saturday.
(Original post – http://sportsbyte.sunderland.ac.uk/?p=15509)