GDANSK, Poland: Defending champions Spain qualified for the Euro 2012 quarter-finals after replacement Jesus Navas hit the late winner in their nervy 1-0 victory over Croatia, who bowed out on Monday.
Spain qualify as Group C winners and will now play their quarter-final in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday against the Group D runner-up, while Italy finish second thanks to their 2-0 win over Ireland in Poznan.
Having come on for Fernando Torres in the second-half, Navas hit the 88th-minute winner after Xavi Hernandez chipped the Croatian defence and Andres Iniesta provided the final pass.
“It was a difficult game for us, we had a high percentage of ball possession and we proved we can control the game,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.
“We were fighting for a victory, not a draw, and we have taken a step forward here by qualifying, this is motivation for the quarter-finals. The team played well, even though things didn’t go according to plan. We have no preference whether it is France, England or Ukraine, we have to be ready to take whatever comes.”
The World Cup winners top the group with seven points after their opening draw with Italy and 4-0 rout of Ireland, while there was heartbreak for Slaven Bilic’s Croatia. “I want to congratulate Spain, but most of all, also my players,” said the former West Ham and Everton defender.
“We had the best chances in the game and when you play against the world champions, you must take advantage of those opportunities.”
Del Bosque named an unchanged team, while Bilic abandoned the 4-4-2 formation he used in the opening win over Ireland and the draw with Italy for a 4-2-3-1 formation.
As they had done in Thursday’s hammering of Ireland here, Spain started with almost 80 percent ball possession, which never dropped below 60, as Croatia seemed content to hit long balls down to lone striker Mario Mandzukic.