Late winner brings Croatia to top of Group D over Spain


CROATIA_VS_SPAIN_1024x1024The last time Spain heard the final whistle of a match at a European Championship and felt the agony of defeat was in 2004, when a 1-0 loss to Iberian neighbors and hosts Portugal knocked it out of the tournament.

Twelve years, fourteen matches, seven straight clean sheets and two Euro titles later, Spain still hadn’t dropped a match at the Euros heading into its final group stage match since that meeting at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.

Needing to continue the streak in order to finish at the top of Group D, Spain finally fell.

A goal from Ivan Perisic in the 86th minute — 15 minutes after Sergio Ramos missed a penalty — propelled Croatia to a 2-1 win over Spain at the Stade de Bourdeax Tuesday.

Spain dropped the match after putting itself in a position from which it never lost — in the lead. On the same day it was announced Real Madrid would activate the buy-back clause in his contract with Juventus, Alvaro Morata opened the scoring in the same minute as the number on his jersey with the first moment of danger of game. David Silva’s impeccable dribbling ended with a slicing ball to Cesc Fabregas, whose shot on goal was deflected in by Morata.

The goal pushed his total at Euro 2016 to three, tying him atop the goalscorers list with Wales’ Gareth Bale.

Croatia reacted in the 12th minute with a strike from Nikola Kilinic forcing David De Gea into his first save of the match.

Two minutes later, it was the crossbar that saved De Gea after a heavy first touch from him was recovered by Croatia, allowing Ivan Rakitic to attempt a chip at goal which crashed into the frame of goal and landed on the wrong side of the line.

Croatia pursued the equalizer but it was Spain which was more dangerous in the minutes following Rakitic’s strike, creating a pair of chances to double its lead but failing to finish.

Just as it seemed the match was headed to halftime with the two-time reigning European champions up by a goal, Kalinic decided to add some drama to an otherwise bland match. The Fiorentina striker latched onto the end of a teasing cross from Perisic, flicking it past De Gea at the stroke of halftime to equalize the score at a goal.

The goal broke Spain’s streak of seven straight clean sheets and 735 minutes of action without conceding at the Euros.

The momentum seemed to swing Croatia’s way at the start of the second half, with a bicycle kick in the 57th minute culminating in its best chance to take the lead.

Spain first chance of the second half was wasted by Sergio Ramos, who headed wide of goal despite being wide open in the middle of the box.

The Real Madrid center-back had a chance to redeem himself when Spain was given a soft penalty for a foul on David Silva. Croatian captain Darijo Srna bumped the referee, insisting his side should’ve been given one on the other end five minutes earlier if the same criteria were applied.

And while Ramos’ put the ball on target this time, it went straight down the middle, allowing Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subašić to make the save.

Ramos couldn’t take advantage for Spain on one end, but Perisic didn’t waste his chance on the other. Making a blistering run from midfield, the Inter Milan midfielder traded places with Kalinic from the first goal, this time receiving the ball and finishing near post past De Gea.

Spain couldn’t come back to save its streak and was punished for its lazy finishing. The loss puts Spain in second place in Group D, dooming them into a gauntlet of a knockout round bracket. It will meet Italy in the Round of 16, and if it hopes to reach its third consecutive Euro final, it will likely have to beat Germany in the quarterfinals and France in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Croatia is on a much easier path to reaching its first ever final. It will meet one of the four best third place teams in the Round of 16, then either Switzerland or Poland in the quarterfinals should it win.

Follow Brian Fonseca @briannnnf on Twitter for updates on Euro 2016.


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