The defending champions weren’t their usual selves in Gdansk as Slaven Bilic’s side gave them an almighty scare before Navas broke the deadlock at the death to ensure his country progress into the last eight. Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic wasted good chances to put Croatia in front before Spain stole victory and now head home after Italy beat the Republic of Ireland to finish runners.
On the balance of play Bilic’s men deserved to take something from the game as they continually thwarted Vicente del Bosque’s side who were unwavering at the back but unusually blunt in the final third and will be relieved that they managed to snatch the late win they needed to come out on top in the group.
In what was a frightfully dismal first period Fernando Torres went closest to scoring in the 23rd minute but was denied by a goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa as Spain found chances at a premium despite dominating long-periods of the game. Before that left back Jordi Alba shot wide and Andres Iniesta poked a tame effort that was saved easily by Pletikosa. Gerard Pique then blazed over the bar before Croatia found some attacking momentum towards the end of the half.
Danijel Pranjic forced a low save from Iker Casillas while Mandzukic blazed over from just inside the penalty area before he was denied a penalty in the 27th minute seeing his run from the right halted by Sergio Ramos. Referee Wolfgang Stark wasn’t convinced and waved away appeals from the forward.
Croatia carried that imputes into the break and were only denied the lead by a superb save from Casillas in the 59th minute. Luka Modric beat Ramos on the right and swung a delightful cross into the box that was met by Rakitic who’s header was saved at point blank range by the Spain captain.
Navas was introduced for the below-par Torres as Del Bosque reacted immediately to Croatia’s near miss and Spain slowly regained their stranglehold on the game. And they should have been ahead with 10 minutes remaining but Sergio Busquets hesitated in the box with the goal at his mercy allowing Darijo Srna to snatch the ball from him.
As Croatia started to tire Spain saw their time to strike and they did so to devastating effect. Substitute Cesc Fabregas produced a sensational dinked pass that found the the on running Andres Iniesta who beat the offside trap and squared for Navas who blasted home from a yard out to send the World Champions through to the knock-out phase.