Spain first gave Croatia a strange own goal, then threw 3: 1 late. Alvaro Morata made sure that in the end it did not matter.
Morata and Mikel Ojarzabal scored in extra time on Monday to give Spain a 5-3 victory over Croatia and a place in the quarterfinals of the European Championship after a wildly fun match at Parken Stadium.
“I went through really intense matches as a player and a manager, but this one really had a little bit of everything,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique.
It was the second largest scoring game in the history of the European Championship, following only Yugoslavia’s 5-4 victory over France in the opening game of the original tournament in 1960.
And there were almost as many changes in momentum as there were goals.
After Croatia midfielder Mario Pasalic equalized during an injury to complete an incredibly late return, the much-hated Morata scored what proved the winner in the 100th minute.
The Spanish striker controlled a cross with a deft touch and then sent a rising shot past goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic for his second goal of the tournament.
Three minutes later, Oyarzabal doubled the lead, received a pass in the middle of the zone and held a defender before scoring.
Morata had received a torrent of online abuse – including death threats – after a series of omissions during the group phase. But its fierce solid corner finish proved decisive on Monday.
“I don’t think there is a coach in the world who doesn’t admire a player like Morata,” said Luis Enrique. “He dominates the air, scores goals, is physically powerful. He is a striker that we really need to appreciate. “
Spain were knocked out in the round of 16 in their previous two tournaments, but scored five goals in a second straight game after a slow start with two draws. The Spaniards will play against Switzerland in the quarterfinals on Friday in St. Petersburg. The Swiss beat World Cup champions France on penalties after also coming down 3-1 in the final minutes.
Croatia scored three goals for the second consecutive game, but failed to repeat its feat of reaching the 2018 World Cup final.
“At the beginning of the extra time we had them on the ropes, but we failed to score from two good opportunities,” said Croatian captain Luka Modric. “Then the game turned around and we didn’t have the strength to go back.”
Anyway, not for the second time.
Spain took the lead with 3: 1 in the 85th minute, but Mislav Orsic pulled one after a fight at the door and Pasalic equalized with a head injury.
Spain dominated the first 20 minutes, but goalkeeper Unai Simon was to blame for his team’s early deficit after a massive blunder when he failed to control a long pass from behind. The ball bounced over Simon’s leg and flowed into the net behind him.
“We know it’s football and these things are happening,” said Spain captain Sergio Busquets. “The most important thing is to get up and show a strong mentality. And I think both Unai and the whole team did that today. “
Spain recovered quickly and Pablo Sarabia equalized in the 38th. Right-back Cesar Aspilicueta then made it 2-1 with a header in the 57th and Ferran Torres doubled the lead when he finished a quick counterattack with a low shot past Livakovic in the 77th.
Spain seemed to be heading for an easy victory before Croatia retaliated.
“Boy, we had to get hurt there,” Aspilicueta said. “It wasn’t great to be scored twice late in normal time, but we were the better team in overtime and we deserve to go.”
Croatia’s late tide allowed Mora and Simon to redeem themselves.
The goalkeeper made a decisive save to deny Andrej Kramaric at the beginning of overtime, then stood up and hit the air in celebration.
“I think when we missed that chance at 3-3 in overtime, that was the determining factor,” said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic. “I think if we had scored, it would have been completely different.”
Simon also made a big stop at 3-2 when he quickly came down to save with one hand a shot by Yosko Guardiola from outside the penalty area.
“We have full confidence in (Simon),” Busquets said. “He was unlucky with this own goal, but Unai has a very calm mentality. He is very ambitious at the same time and I think he showed that with his reaction and the saves he made. “