Spain became the fifth side to claim a spot in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals as they defeated Croatia 5-3 in a thrilling knockout tie.
Two late goals from Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic had forced extra-time in Copenhagen, with the Croatians dramatically coming from 3-1 down to equalise in the dying seconds.
A professional job in extra-time though from Luis Enrique’s side meant it would be them who advanced to the next stage – with two goals in the first-half enough to seal the win.
It was the Spanish who would start brightest of the two sides – Busquets and Morata combined to find Pablo Sarabia early on before much bigger chances for the striker and Atletico team mate Koke went amiss.
Minutes after Morata’s opportunity his side would find themselves behind in the most bizarre fashion. Pedri’s attempted back pass was miss-controlled by goalkeeper Unai Simon, bobbling into the back of the net and putting the Croatians ahead before they had even registered a shot.
It would officially go down as an own-goal from the young Barcelona midfielder, becoming the ninth time a player has put it into their own net this summer. The most of any European Championship, and actually as many as you’d find in all the other editions of the tournament combined.
Any signs that his side would be disheartened though were quickly brushed aside. Some typically Spanish spells of possession followed before Sarabia’s second goal in two matches brought them level on 38 minutes, meaning the teams would go in level at half-time.
Just 10 minutes after the break Spain pulled themselves ahead. Some smart play from Pedri opened up space for Ferran Torres on the left flank, with Chelsea skipper César Azpilicueta charging in to head home the pin-point cross. Going behind brought the Croats out for the first time in the match, but also made them leave space in behind, eventually being punished when Torres added a third with 13 to play.
Many at that point might have assumed Luis Enrique’s side would see the game out with ease – but Croatian super-sub Mislav Orsic evidently wasn’t one who had read the script. He poked in a goal mouth scramble to inspire some hope for his side before whipping in a spectacular cross for Mario Pasalic to seal the comeback on 92 minutes. Croatia were on fire and had clearly had their opponents on the edge, perhaps a couple more minutes could have seen them turn the game around.
Despite the chance for a Spanish re-group though Croatia started extra-time the way the left off. Orsic again went close just two minutes in whilst an excellent save from the redeemed Unai Simon denied Kramaric from close range.
However the Croatian dominance would come to halt shortly after – the much criticised Morata would peel off his marker ever so slightly before unleashing a thumping half-volley past Dominik Livakovic in the Vatreni net. It was a celebration of more relief if anything from the striker, who will hopefully discover some much needed confidence as a result.
A quick counter-attack on 103 minutes would restore Spain’s two goal advantage and this time seal the tie. 23-year-old substitute Dani Olmo, who had assisted the fourth just earlier, crossed for Mike Oyarzabal to fire in at the back-post.
5-3 it finished in Copenhagen in what may turn out to be the game of the tournament when all is said and done. Here are three things we learned from the match.
In truth it was a horror mistake from young Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon that had gifted Croatia the opening goal.
What just about every football coach will drill into their players though is that the game is about how you bounce back from your errors, in Simon’s case his performance was a real credit to his country.
Four saves might not seem out of this world in comparison to other goalkeeping showcases- but when Croatia began to ramp up the pressure at the end of the second half they easily created the chances to win the game for themselves. When they did, a string of stops from Simon was all that was between them and a result.
People in football remember the mistakes – but Unai Simon’s recovery in the Spain goal deserves heaps of credit.
Key defensive weakness punished
It wouldn’t quite take a tactical genius to work out what a pairing of Aymeric Laporte and the 5’7″ Eric Garcia’s glaring weakness might be. The duo are both exceptional footballers – but have won just 63% and 44% of aerial duels respectively this season.
When Croatia had to result to a more direct style of play towards the end the Spanish defence began to really struggle with the much more physical threat they had to face, whilst Croatia couldn’t take advantage of this to win on the day. However, potential opponents might begin to adapt their play to exploit this weakness.
It’s the Swiss (with Haris Seferovic) in the next round as well – so things definitely won’t be getting any easier on that front.
Strength in depth
There wasn’t a whole lot to separate the teams in extra-time – but one of the key difference makers had to be the quality Spain were bringing off the bench.
RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo may have found his omission from the starting lineup a tad harsh – however the impression he gave today surely has to give Enrique some thinking to do going into the quarters. Two inch-perfect assists to provide his side’s two winning goals in the end and all round giving an insight as to why he was so highly regarded coming through as a wonderkid.
It was another substitute Mike Oyarzabal who scored the final goal of the game to put the nail in the red and white coffin, whilst Manchester City’s £63 million holding midfielder Rodri isn’t a bad option to bring on either.
Featured Image Credit – Independent.co.uk