Dark horse or legit contender
Euro 2016 enjoyed another incredible day of group stages to decide the 16 qualified teams for the play-off round of 16 and Tuesday night proved to be the major pathway of tournament’s fascinating dark horse storyline and intensified title favorite scenario for many reasons. Croatia produced arguably the most stunning headline of this competition so far after cruising to a beautiful 2-1 victory over Spain in last day match-up of group D and going into next round as the group winner.
Many tipped this duel as the most prolific storyline of competition’s fair share vision in defining the two potentially best attacking style, one with glorious pedigree_ Spain and other in era of re-creating the steam of brilliant generation of footballers_Croatia and it lived up to that fact. Spain kept the same line up that earned them a 3-0 win over Turkey and Croatia had a tough task without their best player Luca Modrid who was ruled out due to suspension. Alvaro Morata was joined by David Silva and Nolito as the front runner with Iniesta leading the central attacking role to interchange with Silva and Nolito once playing between the line with Busquets and Fabregas joining passing build-up out wide. Craotia settled in their 4-5-1 formation as Rakitic dropped slightly deeper to orchestrate link up play with covering the spaces while Pejaka and Rog providing mobility to win open runs in an static form and tracking spaces in the midfield at the time of press while precisely switching the point of transition from deep and quickly opening neat passes over the flanks with significant determination and intelligence, which signaled Spaniards of dealing with intense pressure. but Vicente Del Busque men soon hit the top gear and scored inside the 6th minutes.
Busquets received a pass deep in midfield to link up with Fabregas and while his attempted through ball shortly was caught midway, but Silva picked and hooked the ball to his feet before executing a perfect inside pass to split three defenders for Fabregas continued run as he braced and chipped the ball over Subacic and Morata just finished it. Silva neatly interchanged with Fabregas with his penetrative pass and Morata scored his 3rd goal of tournament. Croatia interestingly sparked to life with their energetic change of passing and dictating the pace of transition with Perisic became the engineer of their attacking movements with his devastating pace and delightful skills all over the flanks. their midfield intensified pressing through consistent off the ball runs that largely denied Iniesta vital spaces to play and interchange with Silva high up the pitch, breaking their rhythm of build-up as both Morata and Nolito were eventually disjointed to find active passes, while Perisic and Rakitic offered crafty combinations and high tempo runs in breaking central areas often exposed Ramos and Pique to widen gaps with their wide men with losing more possession from deep. that type of pressure almost cracked Spain defense when De Gea failed attempted shot under Kalinic pressure was dropped within his box and Rakitic quickly hit a nice chip over De Gea but the ball deflected off the upper post for their bad luck. the brink of half time Croatia equalized deservedly, Perisic bursting forward on the left and showing flair to keep the ball and turning into his right to beat Juan Fran pressure and sending a prefect inswing cross into the near post for Kalinic braced into open space ahead of Ramos to flick a beautiful back-heel into the net.
They continued their high tempo momentum in the second half as Spain further struggled to find their build-up rhythm and instead were pushed deep as the result of Croatia’s energetic possession play while still appeared to re-ignite some glimpse of productivity with Iniesta involvement in the 65th minutes. Barca man received a short pass in a free central position and timed his perfect dink pass over defense with Silva’s run before Srna tiny touch brought down Man City striker and earned a controversial penalty kick for Spaniards, but Subatic perfectly dived to his right to save Ramos kick to keep his team’s confident alive which ultimately proved as the lead up to their winning goal. Croatia’s intense pressing deep in their defensive line interrupted Silva and Iniesta’s link up play to left Spanish midfield suddenly off-guard from re-pressing and Srna’s great break-away forward pass to Kalinic in the midfield completely exposed Spanish between line to a fantastic transition play and the striker simply set up Perisic wide run as he sprinting forward with amazing speed and precision all the way into the box to fire his inch-perfect low range left footed shot into the near post to stun De Gea. they sealed a wonderful momentum-changing scenario victory that lifted them on top of the group ahead of Spain as the group winner, a big achievement. now Croatians are eager to continue their European journey with an ultimate inspiration of accomplishing a historic prize this time, while defining their capabilities to confirm their serious title aspiration to win the cup more than any other favorites. it was an incredible performance from Croatians in terms of exceptional quality-based factor and strategic tactical efficiency against one of the tournament’s main favorites.
They produced a fluid, purposeful and highly intelligent game-plan in all cylinder to press their opponent consistently , control the tempo of midfield ambitiously and executing to extent of perfection in the final third. their high pressing line with energetic run of midfielders constantly has threatened Spain’s backline and highly cause them losing considerable spaces in the deeper holding areas that involves Pique and Ramos as the initiators of passing play, the vital factor to Spaniard’s strength of build-up play to possession game and eventually the interaction of two center back with Busquets as the holding midfielder was broken through this essential high pressing line. Kalinic has put massive pressure on the back-line, while Rakitic and Marko Pjaca provided intense off the ball runs and continues mobility to drift wide to open passing and equally supporting Rakitic interchanging play in advance role by becoming compact towards center of the midfield. they were so clinical in passing link up at the possession time to dictate the pace of midfield, and Perisic was the star man on the night with his fearsome penetrative runs and crafty skills to break Spanish on the wide channels ,providing a great balance in their fluid and fantastic transition play.
Croatia delivered a perfect mission of transforming vital reactive game plan to ultimately possession dictating approach to unlock Spanish complex rhythm and perhaps will be far eager to navigate their way possibly to the final since avoiding a “giant killer” bracket of Germany, France, England and of course Italy. Spain meanwhile witnessed a little deeper challenge on the flip side of their wonderful start to this tournament with two slightly different views after this group stage. Croatia enthusiastic attacking play exploited Spanish weaknesses in a particular way and by far in one of the slim occasions any opponent would have done to Vicente Del Busque men. after losing considerable spell of possession in the second half, Croatia eagerly intensified their high tempo movements with technically adaptive players like Perisic and Rakitic to ignite fluid passing interchanges and their dynamic pace was the best press-breaking response in exposing center backs and causing gaps between Spain’s midfield. it is essential for Spain to restore their purposeful intent of possession approach based on equally reliable defensive pressing and build up to attack when they face creative opponents like Croatia. they adapted to control and orchestrate neat passing movements but if they eventually losing crucial possession unlikely, then it demands them to apply an effective defensive action as the flow of game might changes against them, which could easily break their concentration at the back. their back line has shown a widely fearful and shaky mood when their connection to the midfield suffered from high pace and both Ramos and Pique were exposed many times in transitions. Spain now needs to find an efficent strategy to play against dangerous counter-attacking Italian team.