By FRANCO PANIZO
They suffered a few scares and needed a few clutch saves from Iker Casillas, but Spain eventually defeated Croatia en route to advancing to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals.
Spain kept their dreams of repeating as European champions alive on Monday with a 1-0 victory over Croatia that was more difficult than some would have imagined. The Croats had a handful of opportunities to take the lead and secure their advancement, but Casillas came up big to deny them and Jesus Navas scored a late goal to end Croatia's hopes of reaching the knockout phase.
Ivan Rakitic had one of the best chances for Croatia, but his low header in the 59th minute was parried away brilliantly by Casillas. The underdogs kept pushing for a goal after that chance, but that came back to bite them as Andres Iniesta got in behind the defense and hit a pass to a wide open Navas in front of goal.
The result saw the Spaniards win Group C on seven points while Croatia finished with four points and was eliminated after finishing in third. Spain will take on the runner-up in Group D in the quarterfinals on June 23.
In the other Group C match on Monday:
BALOTELLI STUNNER HELPS ITALY BEAT IRELAND
Playing an already-eliminated Ireland, Italy advanced to the next round of the tournament with a 2-0 victory that included a beautiful striker from Balotelli.
Balotelli knocked in a turning volley with his back to goal in second-half stoppage time of the Italians' win over Ireland, which finished the tournament with three losses and nine goals given up. Balotelli's splendid strike came nearly an hour after Antonio Cassano scored the winner in the first half.
Italy finished second in Group C with five points. The Azzurri will battle the first-place finishers from Group D in the quarterfinals on June 24.
What do you think of Spain's 1-0 win over Croatia? Think Italy will get past the quarterfinals? How many times have you watched that Balotelli goal?
Share your thoughts below.