Croatia 2-1 Spain: Confident Croatia stun Spain to top group

Spain and Croatia have both safely found a passage to the last sixteen.

Croatia 2-1 Spain: Confident Croatia stun Spain to top group
Image credit: Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Croatia: Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Jedvaj, Vrsaljko; Rog (Kovacic 82), Badelj, Perisic (Kramaric 90), Rakitic, Pjaca (Cop 90); Kalinic
Spain: de Gea; Juanfran, Piqué, Ramos, Alba; Fàbregas (Thiago Alcántara 84), Busquets, Iniesta, Silva; Morata (Aduriz 67), Nolito (Bruno 60)
SCORE: 0-1, Morata 7; 1-1, Kalinic 44, 2-1, Perisic 87.
REFEREE: Cautioned: Roy, 29; Srna 70; Vrsaljko 70; Perisic 88.

Croatia stunned reigning European Champions Spain with a masterclass in defending and counter-attacking to leapfrog their opponents and finish top of the group.

Spain started strong before Croatia grew into the game

Spain began the game almost as they left off following their stunning 3-0 victory against Turkey, breaking the deadlock as early as the seventh minute. Neat interplay between Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata saw the latter touch in his third goal of the tournament in another impressive performance. The striker popped up all over the pitch, holding the ball up against the Croatian defence, flicking balls on from a deeper position and pressing the opposition.

Some may have expected Croatia to fold after capitulating against Czech Republic, when they threw away a two goal lead to come away with just a point. Yet a team bereft of Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric due to injury grew into the game and quickly built their confidence.

Former Blackburn Rovers striker Nikola Kalinic tested David De Gea, before a nervy moment saw the Manchester United goalkeeper pick out Ivan Rakitic under pressure, only for the attacking midfielder to strike the crossbar and then the post with a chipped effort. 

Croatia continued to cause problems with a mixture of energy to get men behind the ball when they lost possession and fast counter-attacking to try and unlock the Spanish defence. Gaps were beginning to appear all across the back four of the reigning Champions' defence. Spain continued their usual patient build up play and strong pressing game, but they struggled to cope with the pace and power of the Croatian counter-attack. 

Alvaro Morata sums up Spain's night (photo : Getty Images )
Alvaro Morata sums up Spain's night (photo : Getty Images )

Croatia turned the game around after an inspired display

Eventually Croatia got their reward for their positive outset. The impressive Ivan Perisic, a fountain of energy and flair, picked out Kalinic who delightfully flicked the ball past De Gea just before half-time. 

Croatia continued to work hard to contain Spain in the second half as Vincent del Bosque's men struggled to cut through the blue wall. It was to be central defender Sergio Ramos who had the best opportunities in the third quarter of the match, heading wide from a corner when he should have hit the target, before squandering an even better opportunity. 

As a cross was floated in, Sime Vrsaljko clipped the heels of the ineffective David Silva, earning Spain a penalty. Captain Ramos stepped up, only to see his penalty saved by an advancing Daniel Subsasic. 

Despite their high energy outset, Croatia did not seem to tire as most teams would. As the pattern of the game had resided before it, Croatia continued to sit in and burst with pace on the counter. With time running it, Croatia broke out once more and Kalinic played in the tireless Perisic. The flying midfielder broke into the Spanish box and fired past De Gea to smash Croatia to the top of the group.