EURO 2020: La Roja Spared Blushes By Impressive Comeback in Eight Goal Thriller
Despite both Spain and Croatia being lacklustre in their respective groups, both sides advanced to the knockouts of Euro 2020. Spain in particular will have been buoyed by their 5-0 thumping of Slovakia in their final match, while Croatia showed their class to beat Scotland 3-1 in Glasgow.
However, the Blazers won’t have been helped by Ivan Perisic’s recent positive test for COVID-19. The Inter Milan forward is one of Croatia’s most experienced and talented players. With this match taking place at Denmark’s Parken Stadium, this was a truly neutral venue.
What followed was one of the best games in European championship history. But who would book their place to face either France or Switzerland in the quarterfinals? Here are all the highlights!
Spain score at both ends
The opening exchanges were largely cagey, but Spain were the side that had the lion’s share of possession. As has so often been the case for La Roja though, fashioning clear-cut chances was proving difficult.
In the thirteenth minute, Pablo Sarabia had Spain’s first shot in anger. The PSG midfielder’s effort though, only troubled the side netting and not Dominik Livakovic.
The first key chance was a few minutes later, and it came down the left again. A perfectly weighted through ball from Pedri found Koke in the centre of the penalty area, but the Atletico Madrid midfielder couldn’t best Livakovic with his shot.
An even better chance came in the nineteenth minute. Ferran Torres found the time and space on the right to float a perfect cross to Alvaro Morata’s head. However, the Juventus striker failed to get proper contact on the ball and headed it firmly into the ground before Livakovic caught with ease.
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If that was bad, what followed next was unbelievable. Spain were producing all of the chances, but found themselves behind in the most bizarre circumstances. Pedri had no pressure on him and passed back to his goalkeeper Unai Simon. The Barcelona midfielder overdid it though, and Simon failed to control the ball, he could only watch it fly into the back of his net. Croatia led 1-0 and had hardly ventured out of their own half.
Croatia were spurred on by their unexpected lead, Nikola Vlasic powering through on the right wing, but couldn’t find the net with his effort. Mateo Kovacic too, had a good effort just go over the net in the 26th minute.
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Spain were growing back into the game, and with eight minutes to go before half-time, they deservedly equalised. Another fine move down the left resulted in a scramble in the box. Jose Gaya got a shot off, and despite Livakovic parrying the powerful effort, Sarabia followed up to level the game 1-1.
Both sides would’ve been happy to head into the break level, but for different reasons. The final chance of note was a long shot by Koke, which flew a yard or two wide of Livakovic’s left-hand post.
Croatia capitalise on Spain sitting back
The first substitution of the game was carried out by Croatia at half-time. Bruno Petkovic, who was anonymous in the first 45, was replaced by Andrej Kramaric.
Spain were again the side on top, but were again largely failing to create clear chances. That changed in the 27th minute though, as an overload on the left side of the pitch resulted in Torres crossing to Cesar Azpilicueta, of all people to powerfully head into the goal.
Livakovic was powerless to stop the full-back’s purposeful header as the Spaniard rose above the defender to see Spain lead 2-1.
Simon preserved this lead in the 67th minute thanks to a superb strong save low to his right. Vlasic cut the ball back for Josko Gvardiol and the latter shot at goal from a few yards out, but Simon redeemed himself for the OG earlier on. Kramaric would go through on goal a couple of minutes later, but the offside flag was raised, although Simon didn’t know that and produced another good save.
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In the 72nd minute, the ball was in the back of the Croatia net again. A free-kick resulted in chaos in the Croatian box and Torres once more perfectly found Morata. Morata tapped in from little more than a yard out, but it was always going to be called back for offside.
Straight after this, Croatia went down the other end and were calling for a penalty. The referee said no, despite Azpilicueta kicking the ball into Koke’s hands and waved away the protests with a yellow card for Marcelo Brozovic.
After a brief stoppage for an injury, Spain doubled their lead. Ferran Torres latched onto a brilliant pass from the restart from Pau Torres. F. Torres cut inside onto his left foot and slotted calmly into the net, 3-1, a fine goal. Croatia were kicking themselves though, that was schoolboy stuff to switch off like that.
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Spain consolidated their position with substitutions, while Croatia were making changes to attempt to inject energy and zest into their eleven. In the 84th minute, it was almost deja vu for Croatia as they again switched off from a free-kick. Dani Olmo attempted to float the ball into the net, but Livakovic was there to save.
Croatia then got themselves back into the game in the 85th minute. No sooner had Spain almost gone 4-1 up, they found themselves only 3-2 ahead. Luka Mordric’s skill finally came in use, as Captain Croatia cut back the ball for Ante Budimir to strike at goal. The shot was saved, but another scramble in the box ensued before Mislav Orsic slammed the ball past the line.
Goal-line technology confirmed the goal and despite a VAR check for a potential handball, the goal stood and Croatia were only 2-3 down with five minutes remaining. A nervy five minutes followed, which only got worse for Spain when six minutes of added time was confirmed.
Croatia were rolling the dice and they came up with sixes. Croatia moved down the left with Orsic firing a perfect and dangerous cross into the middle. Mario Pasalic met it perfectly and the ball was in the net, 3-3 and we were heading for extra-time. This surely must be one of the games of the tournament!
The thirty minutes of extra time got underway as the sun began to set in the Danish capital.
The momentum and mentality of the sides had completely flipped. Croatia were now in the ascendancy and Spain were terrified of the counterattack. Not without reason after, as in the sixth minute of ET, Croatia should’ve been ahead again.
Orsic down the left once more and crossed to Kramaric, who let fly from six yards out. Simon again bailed his team out, a combination of hand and knee prevented Croatia from taking the lead. Spain would have a chance of their own straight after, Dani Olmo only being stopped by Duje Caleta-Car.
Spain would go ahead as the clock struck 100 minutes. Olmo was in acres of space on the right and he floated a perfect ball into Morata, who fired an unstoppable shot into the top-right of the goal, Spain lead 4-3!
Kramaric had a half-chance at the other end, but Spain finally, surely, put the tie to bed in the 104th minute. Another defence-splitting ball from Olmo saw Mikel Oyarzabal free and the Real Sociedad slotted in via a deflection from Livakovic to make it 5-3.
Morata would have another chance before half-time, but Spain looked like they had an insurmountable lead at last.
ET: Second half
Croatia didn’t get the memo again though, as Ante Budimir was inches wide following a move from the kick-off.
Spain then slowed the game down as Croatia began to really physically struggle. Modric departed the pitch with seven minutes remaining in what will likely be his last appearance in a Euro game.
Morata almost doubled his tally for the day with five minutes remaining. The Juve striker was through on goal, but a good save from Livakovic prevented Croatia from being hit for six. Olmo also almost made it 6-3, but the post denied him.
The Croats had given their all, but the 2018 World Cup runners-up fell at the first knockout hurdle again, 5-3 the final score.
Croatia’s dismal run of never winning a Euros knockout game continues, while Spain will face either Switzerland or France in the quarterfinals.
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