A bizarre own goal, heroic Croatia fightback and dramatic extra-time couldn’t prevent Spain from reaching the quarter-finals of Euro 2020. This was the game of the tournament bar none and ended with Luis Enrique’s team triumphing 5-3 over Croatia.
This was wonderful in Copenhagen and it felt quite right that the much-maligned Spain striker Alvaro Morata put the critics in their place by settling this free-flowing and end-to-end encounter. His goal in the first half of extra-time, allied with Mikel Oyarzabal’s three minutes later, took Spain away from their fighting opponents.
Croatia had taken an unexpected early lead courtesy of an aberration from Unai Simon, Spain’s goalkeeper. Enrique’s team responded well with Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres all scoring. However, Croatia hit back with two late goals from substitutes Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic to take the game into extra-time.
Story of the game
Spain were facing Croatia having trounced Slovakia 5-0 in their last group game to top the group E standings and breathe life into their European Championship campaign. They started positively here too with Sarabia sending a shot into the side-netting before Koke was denied by the feet of Dominik Livakovic in the Croatian goal.
Morata, who scored in Spain’s draw with Poland but has been on the end of some nasty abuse following his missing of good goalscoring openings, squandered a header from close range. Meanwhile, Croatia were offering little at the other end but miraculously found themselves ahead after 20 minutes.
The extraordinary goal began with Spain in possession and little pressure coming from Croatia. Pedri passed the ball back from near the halfway line but Simon took his eye off the ball as it approached the Spain goalkeeper and bobbled in front of him. It bypassed his foot and trickled into the goal with Simon’s despair evident.
Yet, Spain responded well to the set-back and equalised before the half was out. Livakovic did well to save a well-struck shot from Jose Gaya but Sarabia was there to convert the rebound, albeit with the assistance of a deflection.
Enrique’s men claimed the lead 12 minutes into the new half when Azpilicueta moved into an advanced position as Pedri brought Spain forward. Torres sent in a fine cross from the left and Azpilicueta rose at the back post to head home.
Having been involved in that goal, Torres then went further and scored Spain’s third himself. The wide attacker shrugged off two Croatian defenders before expertly clipping a finish past Livakovic. With 14 minutes remaining it seemed Spain were through but Croatia were not beaten and a grandstand end to the 90 developed.
Firstly, Orisic, who was a recent substitute, got the final touch to a goalmouth scramble to give Croatia a lifeline. Then in stoppage-time, Orsic delivered a swinging cross from the left which Pasalic met with a firm header to beat Simon. They had left it late but Dalic’s side were now on top thanks to the most dramatic of climaxes.
With Spain deflated, Croatia tried to catch them out early in extra-time only for Simon to make a superb save to deny Andrej Kramaric only a few yards from goal and keep Spain in the fight. The atmosphere by this stage was electric but it was the Spanish who were celebrating again soon after.
Morata received the ball in the area before slamming a ferocious strike into the roof of the net 10 minutes into added time. It was the perfect riposte to his critics. If that goal gave Spain the upper-hand in the encounter once more then the next and final goal but all doubt aside.
Substitute Oyarzabal raced into the penalty area to meet a fine ball played by Dani Olmo and slotted cooly for Spain’s fifth of the evening. The game still had more to give with Ante Budimir missing the target from a promising position and also Olmo striking the post late on. But when this most entertaining of games was brought to its end, Spain who were the team in the last-eight.
Croatia: Livakovic; Juranovic, Vida, Caleta-Car, Gvardiol; Modric (Ivanusec 114), Brozovic, Kovacic (Budimir 79); Vlasic (Pasalic 79), Petkovic (Kramaric 46), Rebic (Orsic 67).
Spain: Simon; Azpilicueta, Garcia (Pau Torres 72), Laporte, Gaya (Alba 78); Koke (Ruiz 78), Busquets (Rodri 102), Pedri; Ferran Torres (Oyarzabal 88), Morata, Sarabia (Olmo 72).
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).