Croatia 0 Spain 1: Lessons as Del Bosque’s side edge into quarters
What did we learn from Spain's underwhelming 1-0 victory over Croatia in Group C on Monday night?
Super subs Fàbregas and Navas seal top spot
As Croatia piled forward in search of an equaliser, Spain were handed the chance to launch a devastating counter-attack and effectively walk the ball into the net, despite attempting and failing to score a vital goal for almost 90 minutes. Andres Iniesta received a fabulous lofted pass from Cesc Fábregas, before Jesus Navas completed a sweeping move to seal three points. Croatia were eliminated as a result and Spain took top spot but in truth, neither side deserved their fate. Spain were toothless upfront and found themselves restricted to shots from acute angles, while Croatia were impressive in frustrating the holders. Vicente del Bosque’s side of 2012 lack the attacking threat of victorious teams of yesteryear and look fragile at the back. Should they win the trophy on 1 July, this will be their greatest triumph.
Spanish frontline made to look distinctly average
It seems that Del Bosque favours quantity over quality. This was clearly obvious as lone striker Fernando Torres made way after an hour for Sevilla winger Navas, proving the Spanish manager preferred more chances to be created opposed to carrying a greater attacking threat in front of goal. Soon after, Fábregas came on for David Silva, and provided a more central attacking option, and the former Arsenal captain was already full of confidence having scored two goals in the tournament – but he is not in the same bracket as Torres. Opting to play without a specialist striker when a goal was desperately needed certainly amounted to a risk, and Del Bosque’s new formula continued to be apprehended until the 88th minute. In particular, Gordon Schildenfeld and Vedran Corluka who were the outstanding for Croatia at the back as Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Silva looked far from world class.
Rakitic should have sent Croatia through and Spain out
A free header from a wonderful Luka Modric cross should have turned Group C on its head. Instead, Iker Casillas pulled off a routine save from Ivan Rakitic and Croatia’s best chance of finishing in the top two faded. Spain rarely threatened and Croatia looked far superior in front of goal, although the lurking Torres did provide a threat. Slaven Bilic has assembled a dangerous side during his reign and they followed their manager’s tactics for as long as possible but Rakitic couldn’t capitalise with his header. It was a shame for a team who played without fear to miss out on a place in the quarter-finals as Mario Mandzukic, Darijo Srna and Modric lit up a group which many predicted would be ruled by Spain and Italy. As for Spain, they received some ill-deserved luck in an unadventurous performance which merited so little.
Where is Llorente?
Spain needed a goal to ensure qualification to the quarter-finals yet failed to introduce Athletic Bilbao talisman Fernando Llorente into the game. A robust and physical presence, although considered anti-Spain in playing style by many purists, Llorente can trouble any defence. But we have not seen Llorente at this tournament, nor in the warm-up games, which begs the question of whether he has fallen out of favour in the Spanish camp, a bit like Peter Crouch has with England. Álvaro Negredo, preferred in the pre-tournament games, came on for the final few minutes despite Spain needing to see the game out and Llorente being more adept of keeping hold of the ball. In a tournament which has seen so many headed goals too, Spain would do well to take some advice from their fellow competitors and hand Llorente a chance to impress.