The substitute Jesus Navas's 88th-minute winner put Spain through to the quarter-finals on a nervy night in Gdansk
Preamble Good evening and welcome to live coverage of Croatia 2-2 Spain. If Twitter is to be believed (yes, I know) there's not much point actually playing this game, because Croatia and Spain are going to invert Machiavelli and put Italy out of the competition with a 2-2 draw. As twists go, this is deliciously warped; for Italy, Euro 2012 was supposed to be an escape from talk of match-fixing.
Not that the specific phrase "match-fixing" has been used. Here they speak only of "the pact". The odds on a 2-2 draw are much shorter than would usually be the case – it's the favourite with some bookies – and there has been much talk of 2004, when Sweden and Denmark drew their final group game 2-2 to leave Italy foaming with impotent rage.
Whether the two situations are truly comparable is open to debate. Sweden and Denmark were evenly matched, separated by only 29 points in the Fifa rankings, so a 2-2 draw was entirely conceivable. This time there are 403 points between Spain and Croatia. In addition, Spain have not drawn 2-2 at a major tournament since 1950, while the current team tend to deal in binary in really big games. Their last 15 results at the World Cup and European Championship have been, in reverse order, 4-0, 1-1, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 2-1, 2-0, 0-1, 1-0, 3-0, 0-0, 2-1, 2-1 and 4-1.
Most important of all, Spain and Barcelona have spent the last four years looking down on the rest of the football world from atop the moral high ground. They will be evicted instantly if this match ends 2-2. You suspect that maintaining their residence is far more important to this generation of Spanish footballers than stiffing Italy. (That said, it would be mildly amusing if Spain drew 2-2 and whipped up their tops to reveal vests emblazoned with the Spanish for "That one's for Luis Enrique", whose nose was infamously redefined by the Italian defender Mauro Tassotti in the World Cup 1994 quarter-final.)
The focus on what might happen to Italy has obscured the likelier scenario: that Italy will hammer Ireland, and that whoever loses this game will be out. In all probability that will be Croatia, although Spain can't rest easy. It's slightly odd that, for the second tournament in a row, a team as good as Spain go into a tricky last group match needing a result. Spain's football may be effortless, but that doesn't mean they always do things the easy way.
You'd still expect them to get through, of course. Spain going out at the group stage? That's even less likely a 2-2 draw.
Kick off is at 7.45pm.
These are the permutations, culled wlth love and affection from the Uefa website.
• Spain have the simplest task – a draw ensures qualification, a win ensures first place. If Spain draw 1-1 and Italy win 4-0, Spain would finish first ahead of Italy on coefficient.
• Croatia will definitely qualify, as group winners, with victory. They will also be through with any draw other than 0-0 or 1-1. If their game is 0-0 and Italy win, Croatia are out. In the case of a 1-1 draw, they will only be through if Italy do not beat Ireland by 3-1 or better. If it is 1-1 and Italy win exactly 3-1, the Azzurri will be second on coefficient. Croatia can afford to lose if Italy do not win.
• Italy have to win and hope the other game does not finish in a high-scoring draw of 2-2 or more. If the other game finishes 1-1 they must win by 3-1 or better to finish above Croatia or better than 4-0 to top the group. If the other game finishes 0-0, an Italy win would take them through as group winners.
• Republic of Ireland are out but will finish third with a win.
Coefficients for exact ties on head-to-head, goal difference & goals scored (see ** below)...
Uefa in sense-of-humour shock They've been testing the media screen in Gdansk by imagining how this game might pan out. Guess what result they came up with.
Team news Spain are unchanged after reluctantly accepting that playing a striker increases your chances of scoring goals, even when that striker is Fernando Torres. Croatia have left out a striker: Everton's Nikica Jelavic is replaced by who-cares-who-he-plays-for-he's-not-English-based's Domagoj Vida in a reshuffled side, with Slaven Bilic presumably wanting to keep the 4-2-3-1 that worked so well in the second half against Italy. Danijel Pranjic also comes in for Ivan Perisic on the left of the attacking midfield triumvirate.
Croatia (4-2-3-1) Pletikosa; Vida, Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic; Vukojevic, Rakitic; Srna, Modric, Pranjic; Mandzukic.
Subs: Kelava, Simunic, Buljat, Jelavic, Badelj, Vrsaljko, Dujmovic, Kalinic, Kranjcar, Perisic, Eduardo, Subasic.
The Spanish Art Project 2.0 (4-3-3) Casillas; Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Alonso; Silva, Torres, Iniesta.
Subs: Valdes, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Pedro, Fabregas, Negredo, Mata,
Llorente, Santi Cazorla, Jesus Navas, Reina.
Referee Wolfgang Stark.
7.25pm "Looks like Uefa has a new rule they are testing as well," says Bryan Tisinger of this pre-match test. "After Torres picks up a red card within the first minute of the second half (did he kick a fan that ran on to the field?), Spain are allowed to substitute Fabregas for a red-carded Torres. Interesting new rule!"
7.37pm If you haven't helped an old lady across the road today, worry not:
the car missed her anyway here's another chance to do your good deed for the day.
1 min Spain kick off from right to left. They are in a very, very, very, very, very light blue kit, a really hideous thing; Croatia are in their white-and-red chequered home strip. Mandzukic bundles Busquets over after 36 seconds.
2 min Modric makes a fool of Busquets not one but twice, first leaving him behind with a burst of pace on the halfway line and then nutmegging him. Croatia have less fear than most sides, which is vital if you are going to do anything against Spain.
3 min "If it really were a fix, I'd love to know the logistics of arranging a 2-2 draw," says Brad McMillan. "Presumably there are no parties sent to talk to the opposite camp, especially not regarding the detail required to organise a 2-2 (surely a 1-1 would be an easier job.) Maybe they simply let the press do the talking, then agree via a series of internationally recognised nudges and winks?"
This is one thing I've never understood about match-fixing. In an age of digital communication, and in a world full of people who are pathologically incapable of keeping their mouth shut, how could you take the risk of making the first move? (This is not to say it doesn't happen, as most evidence points to it being infinitely more widespread than people think.)
4 min Jordi Alba makes an excellent overlapping run, knowing the pass from Iniesta will be perfect. It's precisely that, allowing Alba to cross first time without breaking stride. His cross is a dangerous one towards Torres that is headed behind for a corner. It comes to nothing.
6 min "Do you think Torres has regained his form?" says Marcos Sheeran. "The first match performance was as poor as the second was outstanding." The short answer, and indeed the long answer, is no. There were a few signs that something was stirring towards the end of the Premier League season – no more than that – but you'd be crazy to judge him on a good performance against a team as poor as Ireland.
7 min Play is stopped for 30 seconds because of the smoke from a flare that was thrown from the top tier.
8 min "At least," says Ben Bazalgette, "all of Italy could all put a tenner on a 2-2 draw!"
10 min The game has not really settled down. Spain are having more of the ball but they haven't had a prolonged period of possession. Spain and Barcelona often start fairly slowly, building a rhythm that overwhelms their opponent from around the 20-minute mark.
11 min Sublime football from Spain. After a series of short passes from Spain, Silva drifts infield from the right to play a sharp angled pass through the Croatia defence and find Iniesta, just inside the area. He takes a touch and then, while under pressure from a covering defender, tries to stab it early across Pletikosa, who gets down to his left to save comfortably. Iniesta didn't get enough on the attempt but Silva's pass was beautiful.
13 min "Including the 1980 Euros, and this one, there have been 205 matches in the tournaments proper," says Chris Dunbar. "There have been four 2-2 draws (after 90 minutes). The last one happened in 2004, in the obvious match..."
14 min Croatia haven't had a kick for the last five minutes. This is a bit ominous for them.
15 min Spain have had 78 per cent of the possession.
16 min "Iniesta though," says Phil Podolsky. "What I have recently come to admire about this seemingly most effete of footballing artists is his balls of pure steel. Though if one insists on assigning gender to these things, I must say in my experience women have something of a monopoly on strength of character. Especially in comparison to myself, but not only."
I'm surprised how few people appreciate that Iniesta is comfortably the best big-game player in the world. And the most beautiful player in the world, but most folk know that.
17 min This is some seriously hardcore tiki taka. Croatia have barely touched the ball for the best part of 10 minutes. That said, you could certainly argue it's more of the old sterile domination; almost everything has been in front of the Croatian defence.
19 min "Biscotti," says Bronwyn Jones. "You let your WAG handle it. They are the least likely to be suspected because everyone thinks they are pretty daft anyway. Women know this so that's how we get away with murder." I have not a solitary clue what you are going on about.
20 min Croatia cross the halfway line. Nothing happens.
21 min Croatia have put in a couple of zesty challenges, and there's another from Vukojevic on Silva. Some referees might have booked in for that I suppose.
22 min "Brad McMillan got me thinking, Rob," says Simon McMahon. "Of course nothing explicit could be said in either dressing room about the game ending 2-2, but would it really be all that surprising if we were to find that the pre-match music included the likes of 'Vicar in a Tutu' by the Smiths, or that the pep talks included some inspirational quotes from Desmond Tutu, or saw both managers stressing that this game is too, too important to lose?"
23 min As a piece of visceral entertainment this match has been a stinker; as a piece of arthouse entertainment it's been just very, darling. Torres tries to increase the entertainment with a meandering run down the inside right channel that ends with a vicious near-post shot from a ludicrous angle that is blocked by the left leg of Pletikosa. Torres was never likely to score from there but he hit the shiot beautifully.
24 min A wobbling, bouncing long-range shot from Sergio Ramos is well held by Pletikosa as it kicks up off the pitch. Forty seconds later, his centre-back Pique also blooters one from range. This one swerves not far over the ball.
25 min Casillas plunges to his right to make a comfortable save from Pranjic's 18-yard shot. That's Croatia's first shot of the game I think.
26 min Mandzukic sweeps a shot into orbit from the edge of the area.
27 min That might have been a penalty to Croatia. Mandzukic lumbered down the right wing, past Pique and Ramos, who came back to challenge right on the edge of the box. Mandzukic got to the ball first, and Ramos's studs came through a split-second later to send him flying. The referee gave a corner, but I'm pretty sure Ramos didn't touch the ball – and it also looked like the contact was this much inside the area. On balance I'd say that should have been a penalty. Mandzukic is still down. It was a hefty challenge, with Ramos's studs showing as he hit him.
28 min The corner came to nothing. Mandzukic has limped back onto the field.
29 min A ricochet comes to Silva, 16 yards from goal to the right of centre, but he slips just as he's about to shoot and bobbles a tame shot straight at Pletikosa.
31 min "I used to think Iniesta was the second best player in the world, but not anymore," says Jason Rand. "He is not consistent enough to be a great player, he has gone missing for Barcelona in big games as well as not so big games this season. Still like him though, a joy to watch." I disagree with most of that, but fair enough. One thing I would add is that being used as a utility player doesn't help him. It's nothing short of a disgrace that the best central midfield player in the world (or, at a push, the second best) hardly ever plays in central midfield.
32 min You're safe to put the kettle on: Spain have started tiki takaing on the halfway line.
34 min Croatia are defending pretty well here. A little robustly at times, but that's fair enough. Their defence is very narrow, which is a common tactic against Spain and Barcelona these days. I'm surprised Spain haven't got Jordi Alba in the game a little more down the left wing.
36 min "I agree that it's too early to say Torres has regained his form, but the poor quality of the Irish team should not detract from the upturn in quality of his finishing, which we also saw signs of towards the end of the season with Chelsea," says Phil Sawyer. "He hasn't regained his form, but he's had a postcard through the door saying he has a parcel to collect and is currently locating the whereabouts of the sorting office."
37 min You'll probably know this anyway, but Italy have just scored in Poznan. As things stand Italy are top of the group and Croatia are going out.
38 min "I'm certainly not implying that there is anything untoward or deliberate going on, but how much (if at all) do you think referees are influenced by the way that Spain, and Barcelona to an even greater extent, claim that their style is both technically and morally superior to the way that other teams play? If you think about the Champions' League semi-final between Barca and Real the previous year it was Madrid that were more harshly penalised by the referee even though both sides indulged in plenty of skulduggery. Might the officials tend to give the tiki-taka-ists the benefit of the doubt where there a decision isn't obvious, thinking that they're all choirboys who can't have transgressed on purpose?" You are Jose Mourinho and I claim my 97 pence. (But yes, I broadly agree.)
39 min Croatia have dropped to third in the group, yet in a perverse sense they are probably happiest with how things have gone thus far. Even though they have had very little of the ball they have kept Spain to efforts from long range or daft angles. Put it this way: they have more chance of going through than Chelsea did after 39 minutes of their game in Barcelona the other week.
40 min As a piece of entertainment – which some old-timers tell me football used to be – this is desperately dull.
42 min Alba wins a corner. As he put his cross in, Croatia, had a rectangle of eight defenders inside the area. The corner comes to nothing.
43 min "I'm sick of this talk of 2-2 draws," says Andrew Schultz. "Where's the love for 3-3? That could be awkwardly hilarious in different ways whether it was 3-1 or 2-2 at some point. 4-4 has even more branches but is a bit too unlikely." Not as unlikely as 12-1.
44 min Srna is booking for breathing the same air as Busquets. Who does he think he is? Okay, okay it was for a right arm to the back of the head as Srna jumped, but Busquets' reaction was typically miserable.
45+1 min Spain earn a corner down the right. Croatia will be murderous if they concede from a set piece in this game after defending so diligently in open play. They don't this time, with Schildenfeld (I think) heading away.
45+2 min "How can anyone say that Iniesta is not a fantastic midfielder?" says Ian Copestake. "It's nice that everyone has opinions and the freedom to give them, but sometimes the freedom to do so gets in the way of any actual thought."
You've been on the Sportblog again, haven't you?
Half time: Croatia 0-0 Spain Arsene Wenger was ridiculed for using the phrase "sterile domination" to describe certain performances from Barcelona (and by extension Spain). In fact it was one of the smartest of all the smart things he has said – a fraction below "the prettiest wife at home" and "I'll pay £9m for Franny Jeffers" – and it's been very much in evidence tonight. Croatia have barely had a kick, yet their keeper Stipe Pletikosa has not had a difficult save to make.
That Ramos tackle On reflection (i.e. having seen 47 replays) I think he just got to the ball before Mandzukic, but it was seriously close.
Half-time chit-chat "Are Spain the dullest, most mind-numbingly boring 'great' national team to ever play?" says Jonathan Francis. "Ever since Euro '08 they've been terrible to watch. I blame the aging of Marcos Senna."
It's hard to know precisely how history will judge Spain. As a great side, clearly, but also pompous, indulgent and, in some cultures, a cure for insomnia. They're shredding their legacy with every pass!
(I still think they will win the tournament, mind.)
A few of you have asked how Italy can be top of the group as things stand. It's because all three teams have five points, so it goes down to the head to head between Italy, Spain and Croatia: all have two points and a level goal difference, but Italy have scored two goals in those fixtures to Spain and Croatia's one. Confused? Good. Now lie down on the couch...
46 min Croatia kick off from right to left and give the ball to Spain.
49 min The second half has started as the first finished. The problem for Croatia is an age-old one: how do you score if you don't have the football?
50 min Tiki taka can often be like a film soaked in too much CGI," says Steven Hughes. "It can look technically perfect but can be soulless and very, very boring."
The odd thing is that, to my peasant eye, Spain (and Barcelona) seemed to have a much better model around 2008-09: tiki taka on steroids, essentially.
51 min "Good evening," says Andrew Hurley. "I think Spain suffer from having Arbeloa in their team, he is levels below the rest, and too many attacks end with him losing the ball or momentum. Also, why play Busquets, Alonso and Xavi. Too similar and defensive - it is this trio responsible for the overdoing of tiki taka. Surely Fabregas at the furthest point forward of this trio would be enormously more effective, and an actual goal threat?"
I would dump Alonso, play Iniesta in the centre and bring in another wide forward. I am not, however, one of the more underrated managers in football history, so we'll give Del Bosque the benefit of the doubt.
52 min Iniesta overhits his through ball to Torres, who was away from the defence. That was a decent chance, and it's very unusual to see Iniesta overhit one of those gentle sidefooted through passes.
53 min Strinic is booked for a foul on Silva. I forgot to mention earlier that Corluka was booked for protesting when Croatia were not awarded a penalty.
55 min "I agree on your sentiment about 'entertainment'," says Neil Mackie. "This is a game that can be appreciated (for technical ability) but not one that you would ever list in a Joy of Six. However, I would like to see a top down view to see how Croatia are reacting when Spain have the ball, and also to see how Spain move when in posession."
56 min The thought of Spain going out is, well, unthinkable, but one Croatia goal would put them out. You'd still fancy Spain to win 1-0 with a lateish goal. The level of defensive concentration required to repel them is brutal and must hit you towards the end of a game.
57 min Great play from Mandzukic, who steals the ball just inside the Croatia half and charges down the left wing before being fouled. Set-pieces should give Croatia a chance, at least in theory, but their delivery hasn't been great and Rakitic hits the front man with that inswinging free-kick.
59 min Rakitic forces a dramatic save from Casillas! The chance was created brilliantly by Modric, who made a fool of Ramos on the halfway line and ran down all the way down the right wing. He waited and waited for support to arrive and then, with Spain's defenders all drawn towards the near post, played an outstanding deep cross with the outside of his right foot. It was straight onto the head of Rakitic, six yards from goal, and his firm, flying header was beaten away by Casillas as he dived to his right. I think Rakitic might have done better there, although we haven't seen a replay.
60 min Spain replace the ineffectual Fernando Torres with the right-winger Jesus Navas. Presumably Silva will play as a false nine now.
61 min Just to clarify, if Italy win 1-0 or 2-0 then a 1-1 draw will put Croatia through. But a 0-0 draw won't.
62 min Rakitic should definitely have done better with that chance. His header was at head height, which meant Casillas didn't have to go up or down to get to it – he just moved sharply to his right and beat it away with both hands.
65 min "Is defending against Spain (and Barca) the footballing equivalent of rope-a-dope?" says Alan Kirkup. "Chelsea did it to perfection." I'd say the mental demands make it the equivalent of Tetris. Although I suppose in Tetris you have different shaped pieces rather than the same thing again and again and again.
66 min The team who don't need a goal are doing all the attacking; the team who need a goal are camped behind the ball and trying to hit on the break. This might change Croatia's approach. Slaven Bilic has made a double substitution, with Ivan Perisic and Nikica Jelavic on for Domagoj Vida and Danijel Pranjic. So presumably Srna will move to right back now.
67 min Navas gets his first run, beating Strinic with ease and drilling a very good low cross that is put behind for a corner by Schildenfeld. When that corner is only half cleared, Schildenfeld clears another dangerous cross for a corner, this time from Busquets.
68 min "I see," says Matt Dony. "The first half was a slow, dull affair with very few real chances. Spain decide that their problem was having an out and out striker on the pitch. Take him off, bring on a winger, and watch the excitement flow."
69 min Another dangerous attack from Croatia. Jelavic plays the ball wide to Perisic, whose return ball is just over the head of Jelavic, leaping eight yards from goal. A few seconds later, Perisic blasts a volley miles over the bar from a tight angle on the left of the box.
70 min "Agree with you about the Barcelona 08/09 vintage," says Jonny Sultoon. "Especially as they had the criminally underrated and peerless Eto'o then. Not a whiff of a false 9 there. Best goal scorer since Romario? Possibly..."
71 min To reiterate: Croatia are doing one unless they score or Ireland score.
72 min Spain win another corner on the right wing. Cesc Fabregas is about to come on. The corner is comfortably cleared.
73 min Fabregas comes on for David Silva, so it's one false false nine* for another. I wonder what Fernando Llorente makes of all this.
* That's a midfielder/wide forward/goalkeeper/whatever playing out of position as a false nine.
74 min Spain are having a very good spell, at least in terms of keeping the ball. Arbeloa earns a corner down the right, Spain's ninth of the match. It's taken short by Xavi and eventually Navas's cross is cleared. Spain are, a little paradoxically, totally comfortable yet also one goal away from ignominy.
76 min PUT IT IN THE *!&$N MIXAH!
77 min Spain have completely jumped the shark. A false nine is fine. A false false nine? Nah, sorry. Not interested. I don't care if Fabregas scores eight in the next 13 minutes; this is nonsense, a great team reduced and diminished by their own indulgence.
78 min Iniesta bursts at the heart of the of the Croatia defence and plays it square to Fabregas, 15 yards from goal. He could shoot, but why shoot when you can beat the same defender 17 times first? Shooting is soooo 2007, sister. Fabregas beats his man eight times, and by the time he decides to shoot there are a posse of defenders around to block.
79 min An excellent volley from Perisic on the right side of the box is pushed away by Casillas, plunging to his right. Croatia win a corner soon after, but Rakitic swings it straight into the hands of Casillas.
80 min Spain break four on three from that corner. Iniesta puts Busquets through on goal – through on goal – but he tries to turn away from goal around Srna instead of shooting, and Srna clears. That's it. Mark this moment: 21.24 on June 18, 2012. Spain are now officially a parody of themselves.
81 min Croatia make their last substitution, bringing on Eduardo for Vukojevic.
82 min See 71 min.
84 min Fabregas scoops a pass through to Iniesta, who risks ostracism by shooting first time from a narrow angle on the left side of the six-yard box. Pletikosa's positioning is good and he pushes it around for a corner.
85 min Spain have discovered the concept of the shot at goal! Navas works Pletikosa again from a tight angle, this time on the right of the box.
86 min Strinic wins a corner down the left. Bilic is pacing around furiously, waving his hands at the fourth official. The corner is swung in by Rakitic – and it almost ends up in the net! Corluka got in front of Casillas, only a few yards from goal, but he had to jump away from goal to connect with the ball and it hit his shoulder before looping wide of the far post. He was being dragged down by Busquets as well. In fact that was a clear penalty – but the sort of penalty that only Mike Dean ever gives.
GOAL! Croatia 0-1 Spain (Navas 88) Jesus Navas puts Spain through to the quarter-finals. Fabregas, under no pressure from a tired back four, played a delicious scooped pass to put Iniesta through on goal. He eschewed the pass, of course, instead laying it square past Pletikosa for Navas to walk it to within six inches of goal before hammering it gleefully into the net. The Art Project has its justification; they have actually walked the ball in. I thought Navas was offside after Iniesta's touch, but replays show he was level. Iniesta's two touches were masterful: he stretched to control the ball with his left breast and then, before Pletikosa had set himself for the shot never mind anything else, stabbed it gently past him for Navas to score.
89 min Xavi has been replaced by Alvaro Negredo. Croatia still only need a goal to go through – but now they will put Italy rather than Spain out if they score.
90 min Mario Balotelli has scored a fine goal to put Italy 2-0 up, but Croatia will still go through if they score, unless Italy get a third. Jelavic has been booked for handball. In a daft way, Spain scoring might have done Croatia a favour, because Spain are now sitting a little deeper.
90+1 min There will be four minutes of added time. Spain have the ball; more importantly, Croatia don't.
90+3 min Croatia win a free-kick 45 yards from goal. This is it; their whole tournament comes down to this. The keeper Pletikosa is coming forward as well...
90+4 min The free-kick is swung into the box, where Jelavic is penalised for pushing a defender. That should be that.
Full time: Croatia 0-1 Spain Croatia are out of Euro 2012, while Spain go through as group winners. They did it their way, wearing Croatia's defence out with tiki taka before applying a killer blow at the death. It was uncomfortably close, though, and Croatia had a couple of significant opportunities: Rakitic missed a great chance and they should have had a penalty with four minutes to go and the score 0-0.
Croatia's gameplan was immaculate, given the quality of their opponent, but you need more than just an immaculate gameplan to beat this remarkable Spanish team. You can argue all night that their approach is reducing the effectiveness of a great team, yet it will still take something close to a perfect storm for anybody, even Germany, to beat them. They will play the runners-up in Group D. Tiki taka v Two Banks of Four? We can only pray. Thanks for your emails; night.