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World Cup 2014
18 June 2012
• PGE Arena Gdańsk, Gdańsk
Referee: W. Stark
• Attendance: 39076
Jesús Navas 88'
So, to recap, Spain go through top of Group C, but, their drubbing of Ireland aside, haven't looked in top form so far in this tournament, and they were fortunate to win all three points against a spirited and well-organised Croatia side this evening. Italy's 2-0 win over Ireland in Poznan takes them through in 2nd place, and they will face the winner of Group D in the quarter-finals, while Spain will play the runners-up in that group. Thank you for joining me for Goal.com's LIVE coverage of what was a tense match between two talented sides this evening. Good night!
Sasa Ibrulj, our Croatia Expert thinks Bilic's men cannot be disheartened with their performance tonight. "They did their best, that I have to say. The Croats tried everything; Bilic was again tactically brilliant, they were defending great, and in the second half had some very good chances, but now they are packing and going home. It is sad, but this Croatia can be proud."
And here is Spain Expert, Ben Hayward's views on tonight's proceedings, "So Spain win the group but it's not entirely convincing. A draw with Italy left doubts in the opener, and those remain despite the thrashing of Ireland in La Roja's second match. This win puts some gloss on a forgettable group stage for the holders but they are through as winners. Spain still look strong, but far from unbeatable."
Our eyes in the stands at the Gdansk Arena, Ash Sharma, gives his views as the final whistle goes. "Bilic got into a huge argument with the fourth official but on the final whistle he gives a huge hug to Del Bosque and even shakes the fourth official's hand. The Spanish fans all chant Iker. The two sets of players head off to thank their respective fans." I'm glad the Spanish fans are recognising the contribution of their goalkeeper tonight, he was superb when needed.
FULL-TIME: SPAIN 1-0 CROATIA. Jesus Navas gave the reigning champions victory here with an easy finish late on. This win means Spain go through top of Group C, while Italy, who beat Ireland 2-0 in Poznan, accompany them in 2nd place. Spain have Iker Casillas to thank for all three points tonight, as the Real Madrid goalkeeper pulled off a couple of superb saves when called upon, particularly from Ivan Rakitic's firm header midway through the second half.
90' + 5'
The referee blows the final whistle to mark the end of this match. SPAIN AND ITALY GO THROUGH FROM GROUP C!!
90' + 4'
Croatia, stupidly, concede a free-kick when attacking their own set piece. The clock is ticking here in Gdansk.
90' + 4'
CROATIA FREE-KICK!! The goalkepeer Pletikosa is coming up for the set piece!!
90' + 3'
Yellow Card Ivan Rakitic
90' + 1'
Yellow Card Nikica Jelavic
90' + 1'
It's not over for Croatia. Should they equalise here, they will go through at Italy's expense due to goals scored between the top three sides in Group C!
Yellow Card Mario Mandzukic
We are into added time in this match, with Spain on the attack once more...
Moments after Spain score here, Italy increase their lead over in Poznan courtesy of a fine goal from Mario Balotelli. Group C as it stands: 1. Spain 2. Italy 3. Croatia 4. Ireland
Goal Jesús Navas González
GOALL!!! SPAIN HAVE THE BREAKTHROUGH!! 1-0. Jesus Navas literally walks the ball into the net, after Fabregas had set Iniesta free with a delightful chipped through-ball, who then slipped the ball to Navas, leaving the Sevilla attacker with an easy finish into an unguarded net with Pletikosa pulled out of position.
CROATIA SHOULD HAVE A PENALTY!! Sergio Busquets is pulling Corluka all over the shop inside the Spain penalty area at a corner, but the referee is having none of it. That looked like a blatant penalty!
ANOTHER GOOD BLOCK FROM PLETIKOSA!! The Spain substitute Jesus Navas strikes an effort at goal, this time from the right-hand side, but again Pletikosa is on hand to avert the danger with a decent stop.
INIESTA HAMMERS A SHOT AT GOAL!! The Barcelona midfielder does well to fire a low shot towards the bottom corner of Pletikosa's goal, but the Croatia goalkeeper is equal to it, diverting it round the post for a corner.
STILL 1-0 TO ITALY IN POZNAN!! Group C as it stands: 1. Italy 2. Spain 3. Croatia 4. Ireland
There's that much-criticised 'false nine' again!! Ben Hayward writes, "So now it's Cesc as a false nine, just like in the first match against Italy, when Spain received a lot of criticism. But the Barcelona midfielder has scored two in two at the Euros and if he can make it three, Del Bosque will be vindicated."
BRILLIANT TACKLE FROM SRNA!! The Croatia captain does superbly to race back and dispossess Sergio Busquets with a sliding tackle inside the Croatia penalty area as the Barcelona midfielder dallies on the ball instead of shooting at goal.
CASILLAS MAKES ANOTHER SMART STOP!! Croatia counter attack down the right, with the final effort from the substitute Perisic forcing Casillas into making a good stop at his near post. Slaven BIlic's mean are creating the better chances here!!
Fabregas is surrounded by a sea of red-and-white shirts as he looks to get a shot away on the edge of the Croatia penalty area after some tidy build-up play from Iniesta. There were FIVE Croatia players crowded around Fabregas there!
A goal in this match would change everything. Spain score, and they go through top of the group, but if Croatia score, they go through at Spain's expense. Imagine the reaction of the Spanish media should that come to pass!
Here's some colourful insight from Ash Sharma at the Gdansk Arena: "And it's off!! Bilic means business, he has just removed his jacket to reveal his spanking clean white shirt, sleeves rolled up. He is jumping in his area each time his team wins possession. That is tension for you!"
Meanwhile, over in Poznan, the score in the other game in Group C remains Italy 1-0 Ireland. As things stand, Italy go through in 1st, with Spain joining them in 2nd.
Modric does very well to win a goal-kick after being pressured in Croatia's left-hand corner by Pique and Xavi following a corner. Modric's team-mates weren't offering him any kind of outlet there!
Navas has the ball once more on the right, and looks to hit an early cross into the penalty area, but it is blocked out for a throw by the Croatia right-back Strinic.
Croatia immediately look like more of a threat with Jelavic up alongside Mandzukic. Perisic wastes a good chance to test Casillas, firing a first-time volley high and wide after Srna had swung in a decent cross from the right.
Xai swings the corner towards the head of Gerard Pique, but he cannot make contact with the ball due to Mandzukic's elbow catching him in the face. The Croatia frontman is fortunate the referee Wolfgandg Stark didn't see that one, he could have been off!
Spain are looking to Navas immediately. The Sevilla man rinses Strinic for pace before firing a low cross towards Silva on the penalty spot. Schildenfeld is across well to hammer the ball out behind his own goal for a corner.
Slaven Bilic makes two changes, bringing on Nikica Jelavic and Ivan Perisic. He knows his side need a goal here if they want any chance of going through, and he has adjusted his team accordingly.
Jesus Navas has an early impact on the game, winning a corner on the right after forcing Corluka to head the ball behind.
Pranjic, for all his silly fouls, has put in a HUGE shift for Croatia this evening. He has been here, there and everywhere in the first 63 minutes of this match.
Ben Hayward, on that Spain substitution: "Navas is going to come on and provide some natural width. It seems like a logical choice as Spain need something different." Too right, they've looked blunt in this game so far.
Jesús Navas González
Here comes Jesus Navas. The Sevilla speedster replaces Fernando Torres for the reigning champions as Del Bosque goes in search of goals.
THAT WAS OUTRAGEOUSLY GOOD FROM LUKA MODRIC!! He may have been fairly quiet in the first half but he's made up for that with a superb passage of individual play for Croatia there. Controlling the ball brilliantly on the right, he danced past the challenge of Alba before curling an enticing cross with the outside of his left foot on to the head of the unmarked Rakitic at the back post, but Rakitic's header is saved well by the alert Casillas. Croatia should have taken the lead there!!
Mandzukic does really well to relieve the pressure on his side's defence, dribbling the ball from inside his own half up towards the corner before drawing a foul from Arbeloa, and winning his side a free-kick. Apparently Mandzukic's club side Wolfsburg told him to find a new club at the end of the domestic season. I don't think he'll have much trouble doing that!
The touchline is suddenly quite crowded down in front of the technical areas as both managers start to consider making substitutions.
Some more good stuff from Ben Hayward, "France won't want to face Spain in the second round of course, but Spain probably won't want to meet Les Bleus either. The last time the two met in a major tournament, the French won 3-1 in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final in Hannover. And that was a sad, sad night for Spanish football."
Guys, if you were France or England, who would you rather play? Italy or Spain? Send me your thoughts in the comment box to the right of this commentary!
Yellow Card Ivan Strinic
NOW THIS IS INSIGHT. Spain Expert, Ben Hayward's been in touch again. "All the talk pre-match was about a possible 2-2 which would eliminate Italy, but with the Azzurri now ahead, La Roja would qualify in second place as things stand. So what about the likes of England and France? Will they condition their results to avoid Spain if things remain as they are?!? Or would you rather face them on this form anyway...?" Very nice Ben!
Iniesta drives at the Croatia defence before slipping a pass through to Torres, but Pletikosa is out quickly to steal the ball away from the attacker. Spain are coming close to carving out a decent goalscoring opportunity early in this second half.
Two fine tackles from Sergio Ramos stop Croatia in their tracks on the half-way line, and immediately set his side on a counter attack. Silva and Iniesta move the ball nicely, before the latter of the two attempts a tricky through-ball to Torres on the left. Schildenfeld does well to intercept the ball and hoof it away.
Spain win a free-kick from that Croatia corner after Vedran Corluka climbs all over Casillas as the Spain goalkeeper looks to punch the ball away to safety. Silly challenge from the Croatia centre-back, just gifting Spain possession.
Strinic breaks on the left and has time to whip in a cross at the by-line but he waits too long before attempting the pass, which allows David Silva the time to race back and block the ball out for a corner.
That's a foul by Pranjic on Arbeloa, and he could well find his way into Wolfgang Stark's notebook if he carries on like that, as he's been penalised on a number of occasions for similar offences already in this game.
We are back underway here in Gdansk, Spain, unsurprisingly, are in possession...
As Sasa points out, with Italy leading Ireland, Croatia need a goal here if they wish to qualify, while Spain can't afford to lose! This one is balanced on a knife-edge. Now, for the second half!
Croatia Expert, Sasa Ibrulj's views on his team's performance in the opening half: "We all knew that Croatia would let Spain have control and possession, and try to prevent them carving out easy chances. From that angle, Bilic's boys look good. The problem is the fact that, after Italy scored, they need a goal, and offensively, they are harmless. What they miss is proper Modric. Srna and Pranjic are trying to use the space on wings, but they can't do anything without Modric. He is supposed to be the playmaker in this system, but he is creating little. The stats show that the most common team combination in the first half was Pletikosa passing to Mandzukic. If that is the game plan, they will need a lot of luck."
Here's some more insight from our Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, "Disappointing in the end from Spain. They have dominated the first 45 minutes but are missing that bit of magic in the final third. Iniesta and Silva have come closest to providing it, while Croatia have lived on the edge with some superb last-ditch defending as well, but Del Bosque may make changes if it carries on like this for too long. The natutal width of Navas is one option, while Pedro could cause problems with his intelligent running. Perhaps one of Negredo or Llorente will finally get a chance, too. Plenty to ponder at the break for the champions, despite a positive opening period on the balance of play."
MATCH STAT: Here's another stat that highlights Croatia's brilliant defensive work in that first half. They have won 90% of the tackles they have attempted! Hats off to Corluka and Schildenfeld at centre-back, they have both been immense so far.
MATCH STAT: Croatia are showing how you don't need to have the ball to play well against Spain. Bilic's side have only completed 111 passes in the first half, 279 less than their opponents. But the stat that really matters is the score, and that remains 0-0. They are well and truly still in this one here in Gdansk.
MATCH STAT: Spain have enjoyed 76.7% possession in the first half but are yet to really trouble Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatia goal.
Here's Spain Expert, Ben Hayward's views on that first half. "Shades of the Italy game as Spain seem to be running out of ideas somewhat against a Croatia side defending very, very well. With Slaven Bilic's side playing so deeply, Del Bosque could opt to take off one of his deep-lying midfielders and introduce a more attacking alternative at the interval. But there is still a long way to go."
HALF-TIME: CROATIA 0-0 SPAIN. Slaven Bilic's side have done brilliantly to limit Spain to just a couple of chances in the first half, with their defence in particular thwarting their illustrious attacking opponents well. The score remains goalless here in Gdansk, with Andres Iniesta guilty of wasting the best chance in the first half when he shot straight at Stipe Pletikosa in the 12th minute.
45' + 2'
We're into added time here at the end of the first half, with Spain on the attack. Strinic dispossessed Torres in the corner though, and the referee Wolfgang Stark decides that is enough for the first half, and blows the whistle.
45' + 1'
Ramos gets his head to the ball but it is a long way from troubling Pletikose in the Croatia goal, and it is eventually cleared to safety by Corluka.
Spain win a corner on the right and have a late opportunity to break the deadlock...
Yellow Card Darijo Srna
It's not just Del Bosque who is letting his emotions run wild on the sidelines. Some interesting stuff from Ash Sharma in the Gdansk Arena. "WOW!! What a scream!! Bilic shouted so loudly and gesticulated wildly with open arms at his defenders for backing off in that last Spain attack, that everyone in the stadium heard him I think!"
Croatia are doing brilliantly to press Spain and force some uncharacteristic errors as we approach half-time here. It is rare to see them give the ball away, but Croatia's intense approach has prompted them to lose possession on a number of occasions here.
AGAIN SPAIN WASTE A SET PIECE!! For the second time this evening La Roja give up a promising position by fouling when attacking a set piece. This time Ramos is the offender, and Croatia have a free-kick inside their own penalty area.
Some neat play from Silva inside the Croatia penalty area wins his side a corner on the left. Xavi will take it...
Vicente Del Bosque is losing his cool on the sidelines as this match remains goalless, he's just been seen booting a water bottle in the technical area! It's not that bad Vicente!
ITALY ARE 1-0 UP IN THE OTHER GAME IN GROUP C!! Cassano has given the Italians the lead against Ireland. As things stand, Italy and Spain go through, while Croatia are heading out!!
Seeing as we've heard from our Spain Expert, it seems fitting that we hear from Sasa Ibrulj our Croatia Expert too! "The Croats are doing a decent job so far, at least when it comes to defending. Mostly with nine behind the ball, waiting in the neutral third, 40 meters from goal, and then trying to destroy Spain's passing game. They are very aggressive, solid, not afraid of making a foul when needs be. When it comes to attacking, the key words (again) are 'waiting' and 'patience'. They are waiting for mistakes, chances to create a break. So far it is all about their wide players – Pranjic and especially Srna – who are trying to use the space on the flanks to attack."
Goal.com's Spain Expert, Ben Hayward, has his say on the opening half an hour or so of play: "Shots coming from all angles at the moment, with even Pique and Ramos trying their luck from long range. But Perhaps the clearest chance of all fell to Iniesta, who has now shot eight times at goal in this competition and is yet to convert. Tonight would be a good time for him to open his account."
A fantastic challenge from Gordon Schildenfeld dispossesses Silva as the slippery Spaniard looks to break down the right for Spain.
Silva controls the ball brilliantly inside the Croatia penalty area after latching on to a high pass from Sergio Ramos. He cuts on to his left foot before sliding a cross towards Torrres but the Chelsea striker is not on the same wavelength as Silva, and the ball runs out of play for a goal-kick to Croatia.
With the score 0-0 here and in the other game in Group C between Italy and Ireland, as things stand, it is Spain and Croatia that progress to the knockout stages, in 1st and 2nd place respectively.
SILVA SHOULD DO BETTER!! The Manchester City attacker exchanges passes with Xavi beautifully, but as he looks to hit a first-time effort at goal he loses his footing inside the area, which takes all the power off his strike, and Pletikosa catches it comfortably.
Vedran Corluka is booked for protesting Stark's refusal to give Croatia a penalty.
Yellow Card Vedran Corluka
Mandzukic was carrying an injury coming into the game, and it looks like Ramos' wild challenge may have aggravated it as he receives treatment from the Croatia physios.
WAS THAT A FOUL?? Sergio Ramos goes hurtling into Mandzukic on the right-hand side of the Spain area right in front of the referee's official behind the goal. The Real Madrid centre-back has gone in high there, but he does appear to win the ball. Mandzukic cannot believe that Wolfgang Stark hasn't given a penalty there, that could have gone either way!!
Modric is starting to pull the strings in midfield for his side. One pass sets Pranjic free on the left-hand side of the Spain box, but his effort is weak and easily gathered by Iker Casillas.
Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique both have long-range shots at goal after rambling forward from their centre-back positions. Neither trouble the Croatia goalkeeper though, and the score remains 0-0.
SHOT FROM TORRES!! Xabi Alonso sweeps a fine ball out to Torres on the right, he drives past the challenge of Strinic before firing a firm effort at goal from near the by-line. Pletikosa does well to parry the ball away from his goal to safety. Brighter stuff from Spain though!
Xavi curls a free-kick into the Croatia area from the right, but the referee Wolfgang Stark has spotted an infringement, and awards a free-kick to Croatia. By the way he's wagging his finger at Busquets, I'm guessing it was the Barcelona midfielder who was the offender there.
Pranjic does well down the left to dribble the ball past Arbeloa but he cannot hold the ball for long enough as his team-mates are far too slow in supporting him, and he eventually loses possession before fouling Arbeloa as he attempts to win it back. Croatia need to be quicker at moving men forward from defence to attack.
Our Croatia Expert, Sasa Ibrulj has been in touch to let us know how Croatian TV reacted to that flare earlier on. "Croatian TV pundits criticise their own fans, the ones who set the flare, saying that "these idiots are a disgrace for the country". Strong words, but he's got a point.
Ivan Rakitic nearly pulls Jordi Alba's shorts down as he looks to dispossess the Spain left-back in front of the manager's technical areas. The referee awards a free-kick to Spain, with Vicente Del Bosque looking far from impressed just yards away.
POSSESSION ALERT!! Spain have had 78% possession during the opening 16 minutes of play. Outrageous.
Srna has gone down clutching his right ankle after a challenge from Iniesta, but there didn't appear to be too much in that, the Spanish international was going for the ball.
David Silva has been in great form for La Roja in the first two games of this tournament, being involved in four of their five goals so far. Silva has scored ten goals in 21 international appearances since the 2010 FIFA World Cup final.
EYE-WATERING STUFF FROM SPAIN!! The Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa gladly grabs the ball after Spain bamboozle their way into his penalty area, with Andres Iniesta sending the eventual shot straight at Pletikosa. A let off for Croatia there, Iniesta should have done better.
A quick reminder that this could be the Croatia manager Slaven Bilic's last game in charge should they fail to qualify from Group C. Surely, that is enough motivation not to play for draw, as some Italy fans are suggesting!
There are a few players on each team that are one booking away from a suspension so keep an eye on the following over the course of the game: Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Gordon Schildenfeld for Croatia, and Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martínez for Spain.
Wolfgang Stark should be awarding a free-kick to Croatia to the left of Spain's penalty area after a foul on Mandzukic by Arbeloa and Pique, but he doesn't. That looked like a certain foul!
THERE'S A FLARE ON THE PITCH!! An early break in play here in Gdansk as a flare is hurled on to the pitch from the Croatia end. A chance for the players to have a quick rest.
Don't forget everyone, you can get in touch with me by leaving your views on the game in the comments box to the right-hand side of this LIVE commentary. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the game as it unfolds, so do share them!
There are rumours of a storm circling in Gdansk, which means there's no way the Spain squad can complain about the pitch being dry...
Jordi Alba goes marauding down the left for Spain before swinging an inviting cross onto the head of Fernando Torres who is lurking eight yards from goal. His attempt is deflected wide by the challenge of Gordon Schildenfeld.
Luka Modric gets the ball and his first contribution to the game is wonderful. Dribbling the ball down the left he evades a despairing tackle from Alvaro Arbeloa before shifting the ball to Darijo Srna on the right. Lovely play.
Mario Mandzukic is penalised for a foul on Sergio Busquets in the opening minute, the Croatia attacker catching the Barcelona midfielder with a high foot inside the Croatia half.
We are underway here in Gdansk, Spain have the ball in their sky blue away kits.
Ash Sharma reckons the Croatia fans were slightly out of sync as they sang along to their national anthem there... "Now now Croatia fans we know you are excited about this game but you shouldn't be singing ahead of the national anthem! Harmony guys. Harmony!!!"
Croatia (4-5-1): Pletikosa; Vida, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Srna, Vukojevic, Modric, Rakitic, Pranjic; Mandzukic
Spain (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Xabi Alonso, Busquets; Silva, Xavi, Iniesta; Torres
A quick reminder of the two side's starting XIs:
The national anthems are underway, with hundreds of camera bulbs flashing as the teams make their way onto the pitch.
The camera pans to Croatia's playmaker Luka Modric for a few seconds, and if there's a Croatian term for being 'in the zone', then he is certainly that. He appears to be placing himself firmly in the shop window with his performances in this tournament, with rumours today circling from his former national side team-mate Mate Bilic that he is close to sealing a move to Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. If that is the case, he's playing against a few of his future team-mates this evening!
The teams are in the tunnel at the Gdansk Arena, and we are just over five minutes away from kick-off here.
Our man at the ground Ash Sharma has also been in touch again, this time to explain what's going on inside the ground as we edge towards kick-off. "Super atmosphere building up in the Gdansk Arena. Once again it seems that the Spanish fans win the battle of the fans numbers. Spain players are all off the pitch, while the Croats are still turning a few balls around in their half of the pitch....ah but as Right Here Right Now blasts on the tannoy they all make a dash for the changing room. Come on guys, that's a bit harsh! Fatboy Slim isn't all that bad?!!"
Goal.com's Croatia Expert, Sasa Ibrulj, has sent us his views on Bilic's choice of personnel tonight. "Introducing Vida and Pranjić, together with moving Srna to the midfield, is a sign that Bilić wants to spread the game as much as possible. He has four players that are full backs in their clubs, and it is obvious that he wants to move the ball from the middle to the flanks. Of course, this team looks defensive, Spain will control the possession, but with this midfield can be very aggresive, solid, but aslo very motile when it comes to the transiotion and breaks."
For those worrying that some players might have been out late last night, fear not, if Juan Mata's tweets are anything to go by the Spain team were tucked up in their beds early on. His preparation for today's game was to watch Guy Ritchie's film Snatch. Each to their own, but I don't think that would send me to sleep...
Croatia looked very good against Ireland in their first game, with Luka Modric in particular in superb form, but they were outclassed in the first half of their match against Italy, although they did do well to salvage a draw from that fixture. Spain is a whole different proposition though, and it is hard to see them matching such a talented group. La Roja legend Fernando Hierro has been chatting to RMC about Spain's players today: "This national team is experiencing a special moment. They have great players and when a team is made of all the good players from Real and Barca, who are certainly the two biggest clubs in the world, and more players like [David] Silva. We really are dealing with the greatest generation Spanish football of all time."
STAT #3 These two team's last encounter came in a warm-up match for the 2006 World Cup in Geneva in June 2006. Spain won 2-1 courtesy of goals from Mariano Pernia and Fernando Torres. Torres also missed a penalty, while Pablo’s own goal had opened the scoring and given Croatia the lead.
STAT #2 They have only played two matches in the competition so far, but Spain have had more shots on target (29) than any other team.
STAT #1 Despite having played a game less than half of the other teams in the competition Spain are still the team with the highest number of successful passes. Their total of 1452 is over 100 more than Germany's 1325 despite playing a game less than Joachim Low’s men.
STATS GLORIOUS STATS…
RIGHT. Enough talk of conspiracies and dry grass, who wants a lovely description of the Gdansk Arena? I certainly do. So here we are, another update from our man at the ground, Ash Sharma. "The Amber Gdansk Stadium is perfectly glowing in the evening sunshine which is streaming right across the complex. It's truly radiant and blushing like a bride about to walk down the aisle. Despite the protest to block one of the major arteries that runs through the city to the stadium, most fans have come in via trains and trams. The red of Spain and the red and white of Croatia are mingling around outside enjoying the heat."
One thing’s for sure, the Spaniards can’t blame the pitch should things go awry from their perspective this evening. The decision was made this afternoon by representatives of UEFA, Spain and Croatia to water the pitch at the Gdansk Arena before kick-off and during half-time, much to the relief of fans and journalists across the world, who now won’t have to put up with every member of the Spain squad crying about the dryness of the pitch should things not go their way tonight, as they did after their 1-1 draw with Italy earlier on in the tournament.
Speaking of Russia, they are the only other team apart from Spain to have scored four in a single match in this tournament, and where are they now as we approach the knockout stages? On the plane home that’s where. Is that an omen for Del Bosque’s side tonight? WE WILL SEE!
But, being serious for a second, do we really think Spain and Croatia would agree on such a result? Both sides will want to finish top of the group, and will need a victory to do so. Neither side will want to draw tonight if you ask me, or Fernando Torres: "The Russia result is a good wake-up call for us. We need to win the last game. This is a tournament where even with six points you can go out. Against an opponent like Croatia who also need to win, we need to be careful.”
What better way to both calm down those fretting Italians, and test the screens in the Gdansk Arena than by flashing up a Spain 2-2 Croatia score-line? I didn’t think UEFA was capable of humour, but there you go, that’s exactly what they did this afternoon.
So... if Spain and Croatia draw 2-2 tonight, in an exact replica of Denmark and Sweden’s result in 2004, then the Italians will be on their way home, in hugely controversial circumstances.
Fast-forward eight years and the Italians are on the brink of soiling themselves at the prospect of history repeating itself. Here’s UEFA’s explanation of the possible permutations of tonight’s final Group C fixtures: “For Spain a draw ensures qualification; a win secures first place. If Spain draw 1-1 and Italy win 4-0, Spain would finish first ahead of Italy on coefficient. Croatia will definitely qualify, as group winners, with victory. They will also be through with any draw other than 0-0 or 1-1. If their game is scoreless and Italy win, Croatia are out. In the case of a 1-1 draw, they will only be through if Italy do not beat Ireland by 3-1 or better. If it is 1-1 and Italy win exactly 3-1, the Azzurri will be second on coefficient. Croatia can afford to lose if Italy do not win.” Nice and simple then...
CONSPIRACY... Croatia or Italy could be knocked out this evening despite staying unbeaten in the group stage. This has only happened once before at a European Championship, to Italy in 2004. In that tournament Italy were ousted on the last day when Denmark and Sweden drew 2-2, a result which beforehand was enough for both Scandinavian countries.
Goal.com's man at the Gdansk Arena this evening, the delightful Ash Sharma, can bring us the reaction of the Croatian press to Bilic's starting XI. "The Croatian media are surprised at the line up by Bilic. Pranjic is in for Perisic and Vida comes in at right full back with Srna moving up to the right hand side of midfield. They are telling me this is definitely a more defensive look. Considering the roar of lions that was coming from the Croatian press conference yesterday, this seems more cautious than some had imagined."
Here’s Goal.com’s Spain Expert, Ben Hayward’s thoughts on Del Bosque’s starting XI this evening. “Spain's team now has a settled feel to it, with the false-nine experiment seemingly discredited after the opening game against Italy. Cesc Fabregas won't be too happy about that, particularly as he has scored in both matches so far. The Barcelona midfielder celebrated his goal by venting frustration with a clenched-fist gesture against Ireland after he began on the bench, but is left out of the starting XI again for this one. Fernando Torres is included for the second successive match, but El Nino hasn't scored in consecutive fixtures for La Roja since 2009, when he netted in a friendly against Azerbaijan and then hit a hat-trick against New Zealand in the Confederations Cup.”
Sadly, despite Del Bosque teasing us with the possibility of Pedro playing at full-back, he names an unchanged side from the one that trounced Ireland 4-0 on Thursday, with Fernando Torres keeping his place upfront playing as a ‘REAL nine’ and Cesc Fabregas on the bench.
Spain (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Xabi Alonso, Busquets; Silva, Xavi, Iniesta; Torres
Croatia (4-5-1): Pletikosa; Vida, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Srna, Vukojevic, Modric, Rakitic, Pranjic; Mandzukic
The teamsheets are in, so without further ado, here are the two side’s starting XIs:
Subplots are the dish of the day here in Gdansk as every Italian fan becomes a conspiracy theorist, furious sub-contractors threaten to block the main road to the stadium with diggers and bulldozers in protest at not being paid, and the Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque decides whether to play any defenders or strikers.
Good evening and welcome to Goal.com’s LIVE coverage of tonight’s Group C match between Croatia and Spain in Gdansk. My name is Charlie Scott, and I’ll be providing you with entertaining and insightful descriptions (trying to anyway) of all the action as it unfolds at the Gdansk Arena.
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