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FT Croatia 0 – 1 Spain

FT Croatia 0 – 1 Spain

Spain are unchanged after reluctantly accepting that playing a striker increases your chances of scoring goals, even when that striker is Fernando Torres. Croatia have left out a striker: Everton’s Nikica Jelavic is replaced by who-cares-who-he-plays-for-he’s-not-English-based’s Domagoj Vida in a reshuffled side, with Slaven Bilic presumably wanting to keep the 4-2-3-1 that worked so well in the second half against Italy. Danijel Pranjic also comes in for Ivan Perisic on the left of the attacking midfield triumvirate.

At 88′, Fabregas, under no pressure from a tired back four, played a delicious scooped pass to put Iniesta through on goal. He eschewed the pass, of course, instead laying it square past Pletikosa for Navas to walk it to within six inches of goal before hammering it gleefully into the net. The Art Project has its justification; they have actually walked the ball in. I thought Navas was offside after Iniesta’s touch, but replays show he was level. Iniesta’s two touches were masterful: he stretched to control the ball with his left breast and then, before Pletikosa had set himself for the shot never mind anything else, stabbed it gently past him for Navas to score. 1-0 for Spain.

Croatia are out of Euro 2012, while Spain go through as group winners. They did it their way, wearing Croatia’s defence out with tiki taka before applying a killer blow at the death. It was uncomfortably close, though, and Croatia had a couple of significant opportunities: Rakitic missed a great chance and they should have had a penalty with four minutes to go and the score 0-0.

Croatia’s gameplan was immaculate, given the quality of their opponent, but you need more than just an immaculate gameplan to beat this remarkable Spanish team. You can argue all night that their approach is reducing the effectiveness of a great team, yet it will still take something close to a perfect storm for anybody, even Germany, to beat them. They will play the runners-up in Group D.

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