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Euro 2012: Spain Advances to the Knockout Stage

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 18:  Jesus Navas of Spain scores their first goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Croatia and Spain at The Municipal Stadium on June 18, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Fernando LimaContributor IIIJune 18, 2012

With Jesus Navas' score, Spain advances to face England, Ukraine or France. This match could be the most enticing of all the quarterfinals in this year's tournament.

Even though Spain only looks like a shadow of the last world champions, they always manage to find a way to close out matches and advance. Whether this is good or bad for the tournament is beside the point.

The game in and of itself wasn't the most delightful match, as Croatia's proposal was to give Spain the ball and close things up in their own half with unrelenting effort. The few times they would get the ball, they would storm out of their own half in very quick fashion through the sides and try to get the ball in the box for Mario Mandzukic. Needless to say, that was ineffective.

The only "problematic" play for the referee was when Mandzukic—who had an excellent tournament, by the way—got the ball at the right corner of the box but was stopped by a sliding Sergio Ramos who put the ball out for a corner before he could cross it. The Croatians wanted a penalty while Mandzukic lay in pain on the ground. Vedran Corluka got a yellow card for complaining.

Spain had most of the possessions throughout the first half, but they were never really able to break through Croatia's defensive scheme.

By the end of the first half, Italy had scored with an Antonio Cassano header in Poznan to bump Croatia off the second spot.

In the second half, the game continued in the same fashion, but both teams wanted to score to seal their passage and to eliminate the other. The game opened up a bit as Croatia had the ball a little bit more than in the first half, but Spain, as always, had vast control over the possessions.

Croatia's left-back Ivan Strinic managed to get to the base line a couple of times but was never able to lob the ball into the box. Luka Modric had the ball on the front and lobbed it for a clear Ivan Rakitic. The Sevilla midfielder wasn't able to get a clear header, as Iker Casillas was able to make a superb save.

GDANSK, POLAND - JUNE 18: Andres Iniesta of Spain and  Ivan Rakitic of Croatia compete for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C match between Croatia and Spain at The Municipal Stadium on June 18, 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.  (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Before the first half of the second half transpired, Slaven Bilic took off Domagoj Vida and Danijel Pranjic for Nikica Jelavic and Ivan Perisic. The subs were largely ineffective, and the game opened up. Croatia definitely had more possessions by this point. 

At the 88th minute, Cesc Fabregas—who came in for David Silva—had the ball in the Croatian half and lobbed it into the box for Andres Iniesta who knocked it down with his shoulder and passed it across to a wide open and onside Jesus Navas. Navas scored and put Spain through.

The last chance for Croatia was a free kick that was lobbed almost at the goal line for Vedran Corluka. He was vying for space with Sergio Busquets and never got his head on the ball. Iker Casillas parried it away for a corner kick.

So Spain advanced in Gdansk while Mario Balotelli added another for Italy in Poznan, and the two last world champions advance.

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