Spain's Jesus Navas (C) celebrates with his team mates after scoring a goal against Croatia during their Group C Euro 2012 soccer match at the PGE Arena in Gdansk, June 18, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Thomas Bohlen)
Spain's dramatic defeat over Croatia on Monday gave the Iberians the top spot in Group C and a qualification into the quarter finals.
The 1-0 victory was far from the ideal game for FIFA's top ranked soccer club. Spain attempted to assert its slow-paced, cerebral passing game time and again but the flow was disrupted by an aggressive Croatian club.
Like Us on Facebook
Croatia needed a win or a 2-2 tie because only under those circumstances would the Eastern Europeans qualify for the following round. The Spaniards would also prefer a win because an Italian victory by any score (1-0 or 6-0) coupled with a Spanish tie would have made the Italians group winners with a victory. With a tie between Spain and Croatia and an Italian victory would give all three teams five points. The next tie breaker would be head to head matches, but that would have been nullified by virtue of all teams tying against each other. The next tie breaker would have been goal differential, but according to ESPN, only a 2-2 tie between the Spaniards and Croatians would eliminate the Italians from the mix. A 0-0 or 1-1 score line coupled with an Italian victory would inexplicably give the Italians the group and disqualify the Croatians.
However, all this confusion was avoided in the dwindling minutes when substitute Cesc Fabregas chipped the ball over the Croatian defense to Andres Iniesta who moved in on goal alone. He slipped the ball across to a wide open substitute Jesus Navas who blasted the ball into the net in exhilaration. The play caught the Croatian defense off as they thought that Iniesta and Navas were offside. Replays indicated that Iniesta was onside and even though Navas was behind the defense when Iniesta passed the ball to him, offside rules deemed that he was behind the ball when Iniesta passed it. The goal came in the 88th minute and put Croatians dreams of European championships out indefinitely.
The goal came in typical Spanish manner despite Spain never really ever being able to control the pace of the game as they had hoped. Spain did control 64 percent of the possession and passed the ball around at will, but the passes usually never led to any offensive opportunities that are expected from the Spaniards. The Croatians ran at the Spaniards in hopes of forcing them into mistakes and speeding up the tempo uncomfortably for the defending champs. The Croatians did all they could impede Spain's progress: they cut off angles, clogged the midfield, and minimized space. Every time Andres Iniesta tried to charge into the box as he is accustomed to doing, there would be five Croatian defenders in his way. Fernando Torres barely saw the ball and had no space with which to utilize his speed. David Silva may have been the most frustrating of all the Spaniards as he seemed to rush his plays when faced with aggressive defense.
Croatia's discipline even led to a few key opportunities, none more precious than in the 59th minute when Lika Modric beat defender Sergio Ramos on the right and crossed the ball into the box where Ivan Rakitic headed the ball right at Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. However, as is common with the keeper, Casillas made perhaps the save of the tournament by diving to his right and batting the ball away from the goal to keep the score tied at zero.
Eventually Spain wore out the Croatians and their patience led to the Navas goal. Fabregas, who once again started on the bench in favor of Fernando Torres, set up the pass to Iniesta. With Torres being inefficient in this contest, there should be no doubts of having Fabregas, who has come in at clutch moments for Spain, start in the next contest. Fabregas scored the tying goal in the 1-1 draw with Italy and added the fourth goal against Ireland. Prior to Fabregas' loft over the Croatian defense, the Spaniards had attempted low thru balls past the defense, all with little to no payoff.
Spain will now await its rival for Saturday's match. In Group D, France and England are currently tied for first with four points while Ukraine follows behind with three.