This wasn’t how Spain’s night was supposed to transpire. A team with a 12-year, 14-match unbeaten record in the European Championship and two strong winning performances behind them were not meant to make things so difficult for themselves. They have only themselves to blame for their 2-1 loss to Croatia and the tough re-run of the 2012 final with Italy which now awaits.
They had taken a 1-0 lead early on in proceedings as Alvaro Morata celebrated what may well be a short-lived return to Real Madrid by rounding off a sweeping move which had showcased Cesc Fabregas and David Silva at their best.
But just as Morata is only likely to be back at the Bernabeu until Madrid find a cash-rich buyer, Spain were soon knocked completely out of their stride by a mix of bold Croatian play and a kamikaze attitude from Vicente del Bosque’s side.
David de Gea put them under the cosh first, snoozing on the ball and being robbed of possession to tee up Ivan Rakitic for a delightful chipped effort which came back off both bar and post. Before long, Croatia had the goal they arguably deserved after Ivan Perisic crossed for Nikola Kalinic to steal in front of Sergio Ramos to turn home a sublime equaliser.
The embarrassment for skipper Ramos was to increase from 12 yards out with 18 minutes left on the clock. Spain had been granted a soft penalty when Aritz Aduriz and Sime Vrsaljko collided as they ran, causing a subsequent contact between the Croatian defender and David Silva which the Manchester City made more than a meal of.
Ramos made it all a moot point though, hitting a poor penalty straight at Danijel Subasic. Seconds earlier the goalkeeper had had a message relayed to him via his countryman, and Ramos’ Real Madrid team-mate, Luka Modric presumably telling him where to dive. It was received loud and clear, although whether anyone could explain exactly why the centre-half was taking the penalty ahead of a plethora of attackers is less apparent.
Perisic got the goal he deserved three minutes from time when steering past De Gea at the near post from Kalinic’s pass, sending Croatia to the top of the group and dumping Spain into the path of Italy in the process. An evening full of careless errors on the part of the Spanish have robbed them of a reasonably simple route through the latter stages.
Suddenly Spain join France, England, Germany and Italy in the bottom half of the knockout phase draw, while Croatia now find the likes of Switzerland, Poland and Wales standing in their way of a trip to the final. While much is still to be decided in terms of the round of 16’s full make-up, it is clear that La Roja missed a huge opportunity in Bordeaux on Tuesday.
Even if they beat Italy, Germany will likely await in the quarter-finals. Then it will probably be France in the semis. Spain sure know how to make things hard for themselves.