Croatia Cancel Two-Goal Gap but Spain Progress in Extra Time

It’s official. In modern football, when things are really going well, a game can be decided – lost or won – in mere minutes. This is what Croatia found out today in a Euro 2020 Round of 16 match-up. Their brave and often inspired display against Spain won them the support of fans the world over. But Spain’s consistency and sangfroid won them the game.

You just don’t get to see much of the ball if you play Spain. If your team has world-class midfielders the likes of Luka Modric though, you may still have a fighting chance.

It was to be a match between two of the greatest sides in international football across the past few years. Neither one had entirely convinced during this tournament. Both face squad challenges in different departments. Still, both teams also possess an impressive amount of world-class players.

It’s been hard for Luis Enrique to settle on his ideal squad. This time around, the former Barcelona manager opted to hold on to the 4-3-3 formation he has used throughout the competition. Players like Pablo Sarabia and Cesar Azpilicueta, both of who performed brilliantly last time around against Slovakia made their way into the first team.

Meanwhile, Croatia was a team gathering up steam. Zlatko Dalic looked to build on the growing confidence. His 4-3-3 system, once again, included three of the team’s most creative midfielders, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mateo Kovacic. It’s a risky move on paper, but one that paid off well in their last victory against Scotland.

In the 15th minute, Spain’s quick and clever passing game left Koke exposing the Croatian defense, but goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic managed to kick the ball away into a corner.

In the 19th minute, Croatia got an unbelievable leg up when Unai Simon committed an incredible mistake. The goalkeeper failed to control a simple pass towards him and the resulting own goal put the Croatians upfront in spite of the flow of the game.

Vlasic missed a good opportunity in the 24th minute. However, in the 37th minute, Spain finally got their equalizer. Following a series of penetrating forward passes in the Crotians’ box, Pablo Sarabia cannoned the ball towards goal. Spain were back, but they’d been shown the true strength of their opponents.

After the break, Croatia sensing they could ask more of this game, substituted forward Bruno Petkovic for the technically superior Andrej Kramaric. It made a world of difference.

In the 57th minute, Cesar Azpilicueta, the experienced defender who has had nothing short of an incredible season with Chelsea, stampeded into the Croatian penalty area. His confidently placed header fell into the back of the net. Spain were ahead.

On 67 minutes, Croatia came agonizingly close to finding an equalizer. They may have been playing the masters of passing, but Croatia’s high line often created trouble for the Spaniards. Josko Gvardio found himself at the back of a great run of passes, but could not put the ball past Unai Simon.

Nine minutes later, Ferran Torres broke the opponent’s offside trap and self-assuredly scored Spain’s third goal. It looked all over, but this Euro saves up on its best surprises.

Croatia clawed one back in the 85th minute. Creative midfielder and team leader Modric slalomed through the penalty box. In the resulting confusion, the ball fell to Mislav Orsic, a player that still gives Spurs fans nightmares. The Croatian’s shot needed to be investigated by goal-line technology, before a second strike could be awarded to the Croatians.

In the 2nd minute of extra time, Croatia pulled off the impossible. Their desperate attacks were rewarded. Mario Pasalic ran into the penalty box like a man possessed and headed the ball past Simon.  Croatia had equalized and looked like veritable giant slayers.

Going into extra time, Zlatko Zalic’s men sensed they had managed to upturn this game and now held the upper hand. In the 91st minute, Orsic enjoyed a good chance to score. The 2018 World Cup finalists kept going.

Chances flowed from one goal to the other with frantic intensity. Perhaps unfairly, given the recent double-fire by Croatia, Alvaro Morata made in 4-3 in the 99th minute. Juventus’ striker managed a great stop and shot from inside the box.

Desperate for another equalizer and leaving plenty of space, the Croatians were put the knife once more. Dani Olmo’s great pass found Mikel Oyarzabal making a sprint in the penalty area. The Real Sociedad striker scored for 5-3.

Remarkably enough, Spain could have scored more. This is, however, just the way modern football works when one team is down and the other one can take advantage of space.

Croatia pulled off a tremendous comeback. They were Spain’s equal across the 90 minutes. Even more, the result could have gone their way. They may have been knocked out of the Round of 16. However, once again Croatia have proven to be one of the most international teams.

Spain scored five goals for the second time in a row. They are an unpredictable team. Reaching the Quarter-Finals has not been easy, but it will also not be enough. However, when focusing, the Spaniards can take on any opposition.



June 27, 2021 – European Championship 2020 Round of 16
CROATIA-SPAIN 3-5 after extra time

SCORERS: 20′ Pedri (S, o.g.), 38′ Sarabia (S), 57′ Azpilicueta (S), 77′ Ferran Torres (S), 86′ Oršić (C), 92′ Pašalić (C), 101′ Morata (S), 103′ Oyarzabal (S)

CROATIA (4-3-3): Livakovic; Juranovic (74′ Brekalo), Vida, Caleta-Car, Gvardiol; Modric (114′ Ivanušec), Brozovic, Kovacic (79′Budimir); Vlasic (79′ Pašalić), Rebic (67′ Oršić), Petkovic (45′ Kramarić) (Kalinić, Sluga, VrsaljkoŠkorić, Badelj, Bradarić) Coach: Dalic
SPAIN (4-3-3): Unai Simon; Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia (71′ Pau Torres), Laporte, Gayà (77′ Jordi Alba); Koke (77′ Fabián Ruiz), Busquets (101′ Rodri), Pedri; Ferran Torres (88′ Oyarzabal), Morata, Sarabia (71′ Dani Olmo) (De Gea, Sánchez, D. Llorente, M. Llorente, Gerard Moreno, Thiago Alcántara) Coach: Luis Enrique

REFEREE: Cakir (Turkey)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Brozovic, Caleta-Car (C)