Croatia have become Euro 2016 favourites after beating Spain, says Nikola Kalinic
Croatia striker Nikola Kalinic says his country are now one of the favourites at Euro 2016 after beating Spain and finishing top of Group D.
Kalinic scored the equaliser to cancel out Spain’s early goal before Ivan Perisic grabbed a late winner.
“It was difficult after we fell behind but we showed that we are shoulder to shoulder with the world’s top teams,” Kalinic said. “We are now one of the big favourites of this tournament.”
Having been fined €100,000 (Dh415,304) for crowd trouble caused by their fans in a 2-2 draw against the Czechs, a makeshift Croatian side came from behind against the Spaniards after coach Ante Cacic made five changes to his side.
Kalinic’s confidence may not be misplaced as Croatia’s 20-year-olds Tin Jedvaj and Marko Rog, both of whom were winning only their third caps, showed maturity beyond their years.
Forward Marko Pjaca also shone as he delivered a defence-splitting pass for Perisic’s winner, with injured playmaker Luka Modric, Croatia’s key player, celebrating on the bench.
But Ivan Rakitic, who got the better of his Barcelona teammates featuring for Spain, struck a note of caution.
“Let’s not get carried away,” said the attacking midfielder who added he had “a few things to explain” to his Spanish wife. “We are overjoyed, we will celebrate this win thoroughly but there is no room for complacency.”
Perisic added: “We bounced back after what happened against the Czechs and won the group, but it will mean nothing if we fail now.”
Spain’s players ‘sat in silence’, says Del Bosque
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque concedes a last-16 clash against Italy is not the tie they wanted after their defeat to Croatia.
A late winner from Ivan Perisic sealed a 2-1 comeback victory for the Croatians, who usurped Spain to finish top and leave Del Bosque’s side with a repeat of the Euro 2012 final against Italy in Paris on Monday.
Alvaro Morata’s early goal had given Spain the lead but Nikola Kalinic equalised just before half time.
Spain defender Sergio Ramos saw a penalty saved and Perisic finished passed David de Gea at his near-post to complete a memorable comeback for Ante Cacic’s side.
Spain are now in the same half of the Euro 2016 draw as Italy, Germany, France and England and Del Bosque conceded facing Italy so early on was not on his agenda.
“It’s a game it looked like we had under control,” he said. “We will try and recover as well as possible from this setback and be in as good condition as possible on Monday.
“Even today we didn’t play badly but this is the result and we need to prepare to play against Italy.
“The players were sat in silence. They don’t enjoy losing.
“I’m not going to defend our performance excessively but I think we played quite well. It was just one slip of concentration at the end.
“I don’t have any complaints about the players. We have time to analyse what the game against Italy means.
“We’re still in the competition, we are not on the path we wanted to be but we have to rise to the situation.”
Everything appeared to be going to plan for Spain, who had not lost a European Championship game since 2004, when Morata stole in to tap home Cesc Fabregas’s seventh-minute cross.
But Kalinic flicked home a near-post cross before the break to level the game and things continued to go Croatia’s way when Danijel Subasic kept out Ramos’s penalty after David Silva had been fouled.
And it was Croatia who ended the night as group winners as Kalinic found Perisic, whose low drive beat De Gea.
Croatia manager Cacic made five changes ahead of the game and was pleased with the way his players refused to be overawed by the Spanish but knows topping the group does not guarantee an easy last-16 tie.
“The key to the game is that we did not lose faith and confidence,” he said. “We were fresher than the Spanish in the second half. We kept hope in our chances against a great team.
“It’s an important victory because it is against the reigning champions and it paves the way more than if we finished in second place. But that is only on paper.”
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