Spain was unimpressive in their final group stage match against Croatia and needed a late goal from Jesus Navas to defeat their opponent. Despite having the upper hand and enjoying the majority of possession, the Spanish again lacked killer instinct to put their Croatian opponents away. Croatia played compact, defensive minded football from the start, but earned several opportunities that nearly produced a winner. Spain did not have qualification for the quarterfinal wrapped up either and it was surprising to see them play with a lack of urgency while Croatia played a determined match, fighting to the very end.
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Fernando Torres danced down the right side to earn Spain's first scoring opportunity of the match, but his near post effort was effectively parried away by goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa who again looked formidable behind the Croatia defense. Pletikosa was again tested a few minutes later by Sergio Ramos, but the defender's shot from distance skipped along the turf and was easily collected by the keeper.
Croatia nearly found a break through the skill of Mario Mandzukic, the tournament's most accurate player with 3 goals on 4 shots heading into yesterday's match. Mandzukic raced down the right wing past Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, before Ramos met Mandzukic with a studs up tackle that sent the Croatia striker flying. Despite Ramos not appearing to touch the ball and contact being made inside the box, referee Wolfgang Stark awarded a corner kick to Croatia.
Croatia were again denied shouts for a penalty when Vedran Corluka looked to have been fouled in the box during a corner kick. Referee Wolfgang Stark deemed otherwise and awarded the goal kick to Spain, but video shows that Corluka's arm was in a wrestling hold as he was taken to the ground by Sergio Busquets. It was the second penalty shout denied to Croatia and both decisions certainly changed the game in favor of Spain.
The late stages of the match were an exciting, nervous affair. Croatia nearly found a winner when Luka Modric curled a ball onto the head of Ivan Rakitic, but the header was parried away by Iker Casillas and cleared from danger. Croatia had another opportunity on a volley from Ivan Perisic, but again Casillas was in the right position to make the save.
Following the introduction of Cesc Fabregas, Spain appeared more inventive. It was Fabregas's lofted ball to Andreas Iniesta that eventually earned Spain the goal they sought. Following Fab's lofted ball, the Croatian defense stopped for what appeared to be offside. The referee correctly ruled that Iniesta had been onside and he calmly moved the ball over to savior Jesus Navas who emphatically blasted the ball into the empty net.
Despite the considerable defensive efforts of Gordon Schildenfeld and goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa, Croatia were eliminated from the tournament on that goal. A 0-0 result would have done the same, but Croatia was unable to convert the opportunities that were presented to them by the defending champions. Spain now move on and will face the runner-up from Group D on Saturday where they will have to find their finishing touch if they hope to defend their title and make history.