“What match it was! It was frenetic and justice would have been done if both the teams qualified but that could not happen. Spain advance to the quarterfinals, but Croatia deserve the accolades for providing a match that had every element of a thrilling story that would inspire every football fans for eternity”

 

Some matches become a wonderful story that travels across generation and leave every generation excited no matter how older the match is – in football such matches don’t come every day, but when they show up, they just leave an impact among everyone and when such matches take place on a showpiece event like Euro – for a day or two, you can’t concentrate on your daily activities easily. Time and again, that match hits your mind and takes you to the land of footballing fantasy.

In the Euro 2020, Copenhagen has become the venue of fascinating happening – from the collapse of Christian Eriksen to that Finland victory to that Danish rejuvenation against Russia to the extraordinary encounter between Croatia and Spain in the Round of 16 – this venue has seen it all and for me, this venue has become the home this year’s Euro – the home of extraordinary and thrilling moments and matches.

Croatia and Spain were not impressive at the early stages of group matches, but they picked their tempo late and advanced o the next round, still, Luis Enrique’s Spain were regarded as the out and out favourites against the runner-up of World Cup 2018 that have lost their edge in the last three years.

In what was their sixth Euros, Croatia have made it through to the knockout stages for the fourth time. However, they’ve failed to progress beyond the first knockout game on each of the previous three occasions (quarterfinals in 1996 and 2008 and last 16 in 2016).

The Croatian fans were making themselves heard, whistling heartily whenever Spain have the ball despite watching that the Spanish side was dominating the proceeding from the word go.  They knew that their team is not at their best and without Perisic the chances became less, still, the passion must not die – the backing for the heroes must carry on because they are well aware of their men, who would not bog down easily without a fight.

And, from nowhere, the fans of Croatian discovered that their men were leading 1-0.

Spain worked the ball around the midfield before Pedri whipped a long back pass towards Unai Simon. The keeper tried to control it, but shinned it in the comedy fashion instead – and it pinged into the corner of the net.

It was an absolute howler – Spain, against the run of play, were trailing!

But Spain did not go on the back foot, rather, continued to press Croatia, who lacked the composure at the centre of the park and backline.

Spain really turned up the pressure – flooding white shirts forward – and it paid off as Gaya’s shot was parried by Livakovic, but only as far as Pablo Sarabia, who lashed the ball into the top corner – the goal was around the corner and Simon would have been a relieved man.

Spain targeted the right side of the channel of the Croatian defence after the break and their build-up was fast and attacking.

Pedri slipped a pass to Ferran Torres, whose superb cross was nodded in by Cesar Azpilicueta – his first ever goal for Spain and what a moment to come.

Spain decided to move the ball around and utilize the pockets of spaces left by Croatia during the transitions. The backline remained shaky and Spain always posed threat.

With thirteen minutes remaining, Gaya went down with an injury, and while a few players took the chance to rehydrate, he got back up and booted a long pass towards Torres. The winger only had Gvuardiol to beat, cut beyond him, and stroked the ball under the keeper!

It was a weird goal and it seemed, the match was all over.

But with ten minutes remaining, the whole match was turned upside down by Croatia, who, all of a sudden rediscovered their vim and as if all the stars had aligned for their dramatic comeback.

Luka Modric – the wily old warhorse, pulling the strings from the midfield throughout this tournament, always tried to keep up the tempo that was almost absent till the clock touched 80 minutes.  He mobilized, pressed and ran all around the park and his hard work was paying off.

The Real Madrid superstar weaved down the byline and cut back, where several black shirts were gathered to turn it in. Budmir’s shot was cleared off the line – but Orsic forces the ball in – game on!

In the stoppage time, the script of a thrilling story was all set to meet a dramatic end.

Orsic added to his goal with a spectacular assist, crossed one for Mario Pasalic, who headed emphatically into the far corner – Croatia were level and the game went to extra-time.

Modric summed up the change in momentum nicely by absolutely clattering Pedri in midfield.

An absolutely brilliant, bruising forward play from Orsic, whose cross landed at the feet of Kramaric – but Simon saved with his legs – how could that not enter and give Croatia the lead? Those legs of Simon became a wall in those milliseconds, when, even the best finds it tough to react. – Outstanding reflexes under pressure.

Spain answered – From Dani Olmo’s searching cross, under pressure, Alvaro Morata pulled away from his marker, chested down and unleashes a left-footed rocket into the roof of the net.

In the twinkle of an eye – all those harsh criticisms had been laid to rest because Morata was the savior of Spain and the whole nation rallied behind him and the rest.

After Kramaric tested Simon with a shot, Spain broke at pace. Morata played Dani Olmo in down the right, and he produced another perfect cross to pick out the unmarked Olazarbal, who drilled into the bottom corner and Spain led by two goals again!

Ante Budimir burst into space, toying with that creaky Spanish backline – but with the goal at his mercy, he fired inches wide – the tired legs of Croatia would have been reenergized had that went in, but there would be no drama in the remaining minutes.

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What a match it was! It was frenetic and justice would have been done if both the teams qualified but that could not happen. Spain advance to the quarterfinals, but Croatia deserve the accolades for providing a match that had every element of a thrilling story that would inspire every football fans for eternity.

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