Let’s hope Croatia & Spain meet again. Only that can top last night’s thriller

Croatia 2 Spain 1

Morata 7 Kalinic 45 Perisic 87

As an ensemble, Croatia are the best side in Euro 2016.

With Ivan Rakitic playing just behind the striker, against opponents he knows well, including four of his Barcelona clubmates, Croatia played superbly as they fought back to hand Spain their first defeat in the Euros since 2004.

Right from the kick-off, Croatia showed tremendous flair and spirit.

Yes, they went 1-0 down in 7 minutes when David Silva reversed a very nice pass into a diagonal run by Fabregas and his cutback gave Morata a tap-in from one yard.

Spain are a classy team who can score early in big games and that’s what had happened here.

And even before that I was thinking, “If you’ve got Iniesta & Fabregas & Morata, you can beat anybody.”

However, Rakitic replied quickly in 12 with a chip that hit the underside AND the post AND Pique’s heel and didn’t go over the line. How unlucky was that?

Even at this early stage it was a very interesting game, by far the most compelling I’ve seen so far.

And Spain still have the creative skills to carve proper 24-carat openings.

Their 28-year old striker Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina) was in for Mandzukic, who has a knock, and Modric was also out.

When right back Dario Srna hit a superb cross, the athletic Ivan Perisic, the Inter Milan midfielder, made a huge leap at the far post.

When Morata was released by a typical slicing pass from Fabregas, his touch let him down in a clear scoring position.

Almost immediately, Croatia equalised.

A sensational cross by Perisic reached the far post and Kalinic glided between Ramos and the keeper and guided the ball inside De Gea’s post for 1-1.

The second half was fun and David De Gea had to make a good save with his foot to stop a volley by Tin Jedvaj of Leverkusen.

Then David Silva, always looking for contact, took a tumble and a penalty was given.

Ramos checked his run and blasted it, Monaco keeper Danijel Subasic raced three yards off his line to save  as three Croatians encroached almost beyond where Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers was standing. The ref allowed play to continue.

A lovely, surprising, exciting match with a dramatic winner at the end.

Veteran skipper Srna made a good block, Pjaca hit a killer ball forward for Kalinic, who played in the sprinting Perisic perfectly, and the best player on the pitch fired a scorching left foot shot which took a touch off Pique’s toe and beat De Gea at his near post.

A perfectly executed and thrilling breakaway.

If they ever release a DVD of The 50 Greatest Counter-attacking Goals, Perisic could be on there more than once.

Croatia showed us that they’re a flair team with a lot of guts and very dynamic support running. I love their style of play – and adore the country.

They now have a handful of talented young players that we don’t know yet.

Marko Pjaca ( Dinamo Zagreb) may be the best of them.


Spain (4-3-3): De Gea; Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Jordi Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Silva, Morata, Nolito.

Subs: Bruno (for Nolito, 58), Adruiz (for Morata, 66), Alcantara (Fabregas, 84)

Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Jedvaj, Vrsaljko; Rog, Badelj; Perisic, Rakitic, Pjaca; N Kalinic.

Subs: Kovacic (Rog, 81), Cop (Pjaca, 90); Kramaric (Perisic, 90).