Croatians Return Home with their Heads held High
Croatia 0 – 1 Spain(Navas 88)
Croatia’s brave display against La Roja still wasn’t sufficient to earn them a draw as they were wasteful in front of goal. After Spain’s dominant display against Ireland, one could not have foretold the below-par performance La Roja put up at the Gdansk Arena. Fans had to brook a poor display for most parts of the game before Jesus Navas put the Spaniards a goal up to allay fears. Aftermath of their group stage exit meant early exit for coach Slaven Bilic who had already declared that he would resign from the post at the end of the tournament. The result cemented Spain’s status as group C winners with Italy securing runner-up position via a 2-0 win over Ireland in the other group game.
Slaven Bilic lined his troops in a 4-2-3-1 formation, sacrificing Everton striker Nikica Jelavic in the process. Dinamo Zagreb fullback Domagoj Vida replaced Darijo Srna at right back position. Pranjic replaced Ivan Perisic to form a triad of Pranjic, Modric and Darijo Srna behind Mandzukic as the lone striker with Rakitic and Vukojevic in front of the defence. On the other hand, Vicente Del Bosque’s side paraded the same starting line-up and formation in their 4-0 defeat of England.
A 2-2 draw would have ensured qualification for both sides. Darijo Srna and Iker Casillas led their teams as captains in a dandy atmosphere in Gdansk. The game kicked-off and settled into Spain controlling possession and Croatia pressurising the Spaniards to hit on the break. The game was halted briefly in the 7th minute because of the presence of a flare on the pitch which befogged Casillas’ goal. On 12 minutes, an array of carefully knitted passes culminated in an opening for Iniesta whose shot was held by Pletikosa. Srna’s intentional foul on Alba on 19 minutes was accompanied by a stern warning from Wolfgang Stark. Croatia’s game plan was pretty clear; drop deep in large numbers to win the ball then hit Spain on the break. Fernando Torres’ attempt on goal from the right side of the box was blocked by Pletikosa. Ramos unleashed a shot from thirty yards a minute later which Pletikosa smothered. Pique’s ambitious effort from range whistled over the bar. Pranjic’s shot on 26 minutes wasn’t a problem for Casillas. Mandzukic blazed over seconds later from a Srna pass. Brilliant play from Mandzukic a minute later ended in penalty appeals which the referee waved. Mandzukic outwitted Pique and glided into the box only for Ramos to take him out with a strong tackle without winning the ball. Vedran Corluka picked up a booking for arguing with the referee. Silva’s volley on the edge of the box after some enterprising play was too tame to trouble Pletikosa. Spain continued to enjoy possession, showcasing lovely passing but they were reduced to half chances. It ended 0-0 at half time with news of Cassano putting the Italians ahead in Poznan.
It was a positive start from the Blazers after the restart who earned an early corner that was swung towards Corluka but he was penalised for a foul on Pique. Ivan Strinic was booked for a shove on Silva. Croatia had a great chance to take the lead in the 59th minute. Modric broke down the right and cut inside before crossing for an unmarked Rakitic who nodded at Casillas from six yards out. Del Bosque replaced the disappointing Fernando Torres with Jesus Navas. In a bold move, Bilic sent Jelavic and Perisic into the game to replace Pranjic and Vida. Spain continued to pass the ball around without really having a clear-cut chance as the Croatians defended expertly. On 79 minutes, Spain were presented with a great opportunity. Four on four on the Counter attack, Croatia’s backline was finally exposed but Busquets allowed Srna to win the ball with a perfectly timed sliding tackle. With 10 minutes to go, it became end to end action, the Croatians changing to a high defensive line in a bid to get a goal. Their strategy change allowed Spain to be finally released from the half cut chances they were reduced them to. Former Arsenal striker Eduardo was introduced into the game in place of Vukojevic. Croatia needed a goal but it was Spain who got their goal through Navas two minutes from full time. A ball over the back four found Iniesta. The Barcelona midfielder evaded the offside trap to square the ball to Navas. Navas slotted the ball coolly into an empty net.
POST MATCH THOUGHTS
Croatia did brilliantly to keep Spain at bay for most part of the game and couldn’t have done much more than that other than take their chances. They could have claimed a draw had they not had to come all out in search of a goal. Slaven Bilic has the tough group stage draw to rue.
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Pletikosa; Strinis, Schildenfeld, Corluka, Vida (Jelavic 66); Rakitic, Vukojevic (Eduardo 81); Pranjic (Perisic 66), Modric, Srna; Mandzukic.
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Alba, Ramos, Pique, Arbeloa; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi (Negredo 89); Iniesta, Torres (Navas 61), Silva (Fabregas 73).
“I don’t see them as the really big favourites. There are quite a few teams that maybe have more pace and are hungry to win and maybe more aggressive on the pitch than Spain.” – Slaven Bilic on Spain’s chances of success in the tournament.
“We suffered.” -Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.