Croatia end Spain's 12-year unbeaten run at European finals
Six teams advanced at the European Championship yesterday and a heavyweight clash was set up as the round of 16 took shape.
Only one team, the Czech Republic, was definitely elimi-nated. Turkey and Albania were left with hope, but no security, and the eight teams playing today were left knowing exactly what they need to do to stay on in France.
Still, one match stands out as Euro 2016 finally heats up.
Two-time defending champions Spain play Italy on Monday, a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, at the 75,000-capacity Stade de France.
Spain dropped into an unwanted match against their old rivals after conceding an 87th-minute goal in a 2-1 defeat by Croatia yesterday through Ivan Perisic's goal, which also ended Spain's unbeaten run at the tournament, that stretched all the way back to 2004.
READY TO OVERCOME
"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 equalised just before half time 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 counterattack with a low left-foot shot that beat Spain goalkeeper David De Gea at his near post.
"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 are the unexpected winners of Group D and will be rewarded with a game against one of the third-place teams. That will be made clear when the final round of group-stage games is played today.
Earlier, Croatia were among five teams whose place in the knockout round was sealed by
1-0 wins for Germany and Poland in Group C, over Northern Ireland and already eliminated Ukraine, respectively.
Germany advanced as group winners and Poland as runners-up. But those results also set the bar at four points as a guarantee of staying in France for at least one more match.
Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia had already reached that mark and so advanced.
The new format for Euro 2016 - with 24 teams creating an imperfect tournament number - means four of the six third-place teams advance to complete a 16-team bracket, along with the top two in each group.
Northern Ireland's early evening loss left them noisy and boisterous, with three points and hope, but no guarantee of advancing. That was clarified three hours later when the other match in the Croatia-Spain group ended 2-0 to Turkey against the Czech Republic.
Turkey, like Albania in Group A, have three points, but a -2 goal difference. Northern Ireland's zero goal difference -. preserved by a heroic display by goalkeeper Michael McGovern against the Germans - ensured they will advance. They will next play either host nation France or Wales.
Slovakia advanced without playing yesterday. With four points and third place behind Wales and England in Group B on Monday, the Slovaks looked sure to be safe and duly were.
Italy are assured of topping Group E and complete their group programme today against Ireland, which must win to have any chance of advancing.
Second-place Belgium play Sweden in what could be Zlatan Ibrahimovic's last international game, while group F leaders Hungary also will advance, though not necessarily on top of their table, after playing Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal today. Second-place Iceland play Austria, who have to win.