Spain struggled to squeeze past plucky Croatia 1-0 in the final minutes, helping to send Italy into the quarter-finals.
Both sides went into the game on four points and had a chance to top the group or be eliminated. A 2-2 draw would send both of them through regardless of Italy’s result against the Republic of Ireland, so people were keeping a close eye on any repeat of the Denmark-Sweden match that knocked the Azzurri out of Euro 2004.
Spain stuck with the line-up that thrashed Ireland 4-0 with Fernando Torres leading the attack, while Croatia had to make two changes. Danijel Pranjic stepped in as Nikica Jelavic is suffering from flu symptoms, while Domagoj Vida replaced defender Ivan Perisic.
As expected, Spain dominated possession and Stipe Pletikosa saved from an Andres Iniesta angled drive inspired by the David Silva pass. The Croatian goalkeeper also parried a fierce Torres strike from an improbable angle and smothered the long-range Sergio Ramos effort.
Pranjic finally tested Iker Casillas from 18 yards and there were Croatian penalty appeals on 27 minutes. Mario Mandzukic burst past Gerard Pique and was tackled by Sergio Ramos, who did not seem to get the ball, but the referee only awarded a corner.
With this result and Italy winning 1-0 over the Republic of Ireland at half-time, the Azzurri would go through top of the group along with Spain. They’d all be level on five points, but Italy would have scored more goals in the head-to-head meetings.
After the restart Iniesta over-hot a through ball for Torres, but Croatia had a sensational scoring opportunity on the hour mark. Luka Modric sprinted down the right and put the deep cross to Ivan Rakitic, whose header was beaten away by a flying Iker Casillas save.
Torres was disappointing and made way for Jesus Navas, returning to the no striker system with David Silva as a ‘false nine.’
Croatia remained the more dangerous side and substitute Jelavic just failed to get his head on to a Perisic cross, then Perisic went for goal himself by blasting a volley well over.
It was more Croatia than Spain in this head-to-head match, as Casillas parried a Perisic volley from the right side of the area.
At the other end, Spain wasted a counter-attack from a Croatian corner when Sergio Busquets hesitated rather than shooting. The reigning World and European champions finally started to attack in the last five minutes with Iniesta and Jesus Navas both forcing tough saves out of Pletikosa.
Vedran Corluka very nearly put Croatia in front at the 86th minute when Rakitic swung in the corner for his header that skimmed the upright.
Spain broke the deadlock when Iniesta sprung the offside trap to go clear and rolled across for Jesus Navas to tap in to an empty net.
Croatia had a dangerous corner in stoppages, but it was not enough to continue their Euro 2012 adventure.
Croatia 0-1 Spain
Scorers: Jesus Navas 87 (S)
Croatia: Pletikosa; Vida (Perisic 66), Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Rakitic, Vukojevic (Eduardo 81); Srna, Modric, Pranjic (Jelavic 66); Mandzukic
Spain: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Xavi (Negredo 89), Busquets, Xabi Alonso; Silva (Fabregas 73), Torres (Jesus Navas 60), Iniesta
Ref: Stark (Ger)