Spain and Italy complete the job as valiant Croatia bow out in Gdansk
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
In what was a mostly uneventful evening, both Spain and Italy completed their qualification for the Euro 2012 knock-out stage with wins over Croatia and Ireland. Out Euro 2012 blog correspondent Adam Hurrey was there.
Group C endured some good old-fashioned permutations before it finally succumbed to the form-book and allowed Spain and Italy to progress to the quarter-finals.
On a humid night in Gdansk, later to develop into a biblical thunderstorm, Croatia met the Spanish in search of the win that would guarantee their qualification. The glowing, amber PGE Arena is straight out of a science fiction film, albeit one involving stupid aliens that land in the middle of a building site which requires them to undertake the longest walk in the history of the universe to pick up their tickets.
Spain lined up in familiar fashion, with Torres getting the nod up front after his brace against Ireland. It took only a few minutes for the thunderous Croatian fans to indulge in their national sport of flare-throwing, to the hand-wringing displeasure of the travelling Spanish faithful. The possession enthusiasts in the Spanish midfield, snarkily gaining a reputation as a beyond-parody “art project” rather than a football team, settled into their usual rhythm.
As is so often the case against Spain, the moment that their opponents won the ball back saw mild panic set in and the ball swiftly given back to its rightful owners. Only Luka Modric displayed a sense of adventure for the Croatians in a leisurely first-half, in which Stipe Pletikosa was only troubled by a Torres effort from an impossible angle. Torres cut his regular frustrated figure before he was replaced by Cesc Fabregas in the second half, giving coach Vicente del Bosque somewhat of a selection dilemma for the quarter-final.
With Italy leading against Ireland, Croatia began the second half with greater purpose and finally began to test Iker Casillas and his defence. On the hour mark, the superb Modric broke down the right and, after weighing up his options, found Ivan Rakitic with the outside of his boot. Rakitic stormed on to the cross, but his header flew straight at Casillas. Spanish hearts ascended to mouths again when Casillas was forced into another save from Ivan Perisic’s firm volley. Croatia were troubling Spain simply by mustering the confidence to drive forward with the ball, but not even the introduction of Nikica Jelavic and, eventually, Eduardo Silva could find a breakthrough.
Inevitably, Spain took advantage of the extra space behind a tiring Croatian defence and Iniesta sprung forward to gift substitute Jesus Navas a simple finish. But nothing changed from Bilic’s perspective – his team still needed a solitary goal to stay alive in the tournament. He stormed around the extremities of his technical area, looking like he desperately wanted to be out there himself to drag Croatia level, but despite a flurry of set-pieces (including the always-welcome sight of Pletikosa venturing forward in the dying moments), it was not to be.
Spain proceed to the quarter-final in Donetsk on Saturday, where they will face the Group D runners-up. England face Ukraine there tonight, with Oleh Blokhin’s side needing a win to avoid going the same way as co-hosts Poland. Next up for me is the short hop to Warsaw to take in the quarter-final between Czech Republic and Portugal, before I return to Gdansk to cover its coastal delights in more detail.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
For all the latest Euro 2012 betting offers and news, dont forget to follow BetfairSports on Twitter.
You must be logged in to post a comment! Sign up + or log in in the top right corner.