Croatia ends Spain's 12-year unbeaten run at European finals
BORDEAUX, FRANCE >> Spain's 12-year unbeaten run at the European Championship ended when Croatia rallied for a stunning 2-1 win on Tuesday, sending the two-time champions into an intense, high-profile knockout match against Italy in the round of 16.
Ivan Perisic's 87th-minute winner for Croatia not only ended Spain's unbeaten run at the tournament that stretched back to 2004, it also relegated the defending champions into second place in Group D.
A draw would have been enough for Spain to secure first place in the group and a potentially easier second-round game.
Spain will face the Italians at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis on Monday — a repeat of the 2012 final that Spain won 4-0. Croatia will play one of the third-place teams in the northern French city of Lens on Saturday.
"It's not the best path for us, but you never know where the danger will be," Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. "We wanted to advance in first place but we are prepared to overcome this."
It had all started so well for Spain, when striker Alvaro Morata put his side ahead in the seventh minute, redirecting the ball into the net after a shot by midfielder Cesc Fabregas.
Nikola Kalinic equalized just before halftime when he steered a Perisic cross into the Spain net with a nice back-heel flick.
Spain had a chance to retake the lead, but defender Sergio Ramos saw his penalty saved by Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic in the 72nd minute.
It proved to be a costly miss when Perisic finished off a fast counter attack with a low left-foot shot that beat Spain goalkeeper David De Gea at his near post.
Both teams had entered the match at the Stade the Bordeaux guaranteed a spot in the knockout stage. However, both teams wanted to win especially as the runner-up in the group will meet Italy. That was evident in the starting lineup that Del Bosque picked — the same 11 that won its first two games.
"We have to get over this," Del Bosque said. "Now we have to prepare well."
The result ended Spain's 14-game unbeaten streak at the European Championship over two tournaments. It also ended the team's run of seven straight games without conceding a goal. The last time it had conceded was in a 1-1 draw against Italy in its first group match in the 2012 tournament — 734 minutes ago.
"It's better to lose now than on Monday (against Italy)," Spain striker Manuel "Nolito" Agudo said. "It will be harder now, but you have to beat everybody to be the champion. We still depend on ourselves. We will be ready to play Italy."
Italy has been somewhat of a surprise package at Euro 2016. The team arrived in France with few predicting it would go far but it qualified top of its group with a game to spare, after winning both of its matches without conceding a goal.
"Italy is playing well of late," Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said. "They also like to keep the ball as part of their defensive tactics."
Croatia's surprise victory came despite playing without star midfielder Luka Modric and forward Mario Mandzukic, both out with muscle injuries.
"The team spirit helped us and we were fighting until the last minute," Perisic said through a translator. "I think we can go far now. If we play like this we can go to the very end."
Croatia hadn't beaten Spain since a 2-0 result in friendly in Valencia in 1994. The teams had also met in the final group game at Euro 2012, when Spain won 1-0.
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