LONDON: Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal scored in extra time as Spain held off a remarkable Croatian fightback to win 5-3 in a pulsating Euro 2020 last 16 match in Copenhagen for a place in the quarter-finals.
Spain gifted Croatia a bizarre own-goal in the first half and then threw away a 3-1 lead but the much-maligned Morata made it 4-3 when he controlled a cross with one deft touch in the 100th minute and sent a shot past goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic at the Parken Stadium.
Oyarzabal doubled the lead three minutes later to make it the highest-scoring European Championship match since the first game of the inaugural edition in 1960.
Spain looked firmly in control when Unai Simon failed to control Pedri’s backpass from near midfield in the 20th minute and watched helplessly as the ball bounced over his foot and into the net to put Croatia ahead.
The Spaniards drew level in the 38th minute following sustained pressure that was rewarded when Livakovic swatted Jose Gaya’s shot to the feet of Pablo Sarabia who fired home.
The three-times European champions continued to create chances and Cesar Azpilicueta notched a well-timed header after connecting with a cross from Ferran Torres in the 57th minute.
Torres got Spain’s third in the 77th minute.
In a remarkable comeback, Mislav Orsic clawed a goal back for the World Cup semi-finalists in the 85th minute after a goalmouth scramble before Mario Pasilic headed Croatia’s equaliser in stoppage time.
Spain will head to Saint Petersburg for a quarter-final against France or Switzerland on Friday despite the city posting a new pandemic high for daily virus deaths.
Russia’s tournament organisers said on Monday the fixture will “take place at the Krestovsky Stadium as planned”.
Spectator numbers have been capped at half, but are still drawing upwards of 26,000 people.
On Sunday, Thorgan Hazard scored the only goal of the game as Belgium held Cristiano Ronaldo scoreless and defeated defending champions Portugal in Seville to advance to the quarter-finals.
Ronaldo and his Portugal team-mates were hoping to defend the trophy they won in Paris five years ago but they could not recover after the lesser heralded of the Hazard brothers smashed home just before half-time and Belgium held out for a 1-0 victory.
Hazard scored the winning goal in the 42nd minute with a swerving shot from outside the area that left Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio wrong-footed and late to swat the ball away.
The meeting between the reigning champions and the world’s top-ranked team was hotly anticipated but it never lived up to expectations.
Belgium will not care as they advance to another exciting tie, a mouth-watering quarter-final against Italy in Munich on Friday.
“I just tried my luck,” said Borussia Dortmund winger Hazard. “It wasn’t easy but to go all the way in a tournament you have to suffer at times.”
It remains to be seen if their captain, Kevin De Bruyne, will be fit to face Italy after he was forced off early in the second half feeling the effects of an earlier Joao Palhinha challenge that left him with an injured ankle.
Coach Roberto Martinez also saw skipper Eden Hazard come off late on with a hamstring problem.
Portugal had several good chances to equalise late in the match, including a header by Ruben Dias saved by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and a shot by Raphael Guerreiro that hit the post but Ronaldo rarely looked like getting the goal that would have seen him break the all-time international scoring record.
He equalled the record of 109 goals established by former Iran striker Ali Daei with a brace in the 2-2 draw with France in Portugal’s final group game.
At 36, this could well have been Ronaldo’s last ever match at the European Championship but he will certainly hope to play at next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
“There are players in tears,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “We are very sad because the players gave everything.”
While Portugal’s run for a second consecutive European title ended, Belgium stayed on track to finally lift a major trophy for the first time. The Belgians lost in the European Championship final in 1980 and finished third three years ago at the World Cup for their best finish at that tournament.
The top-ranked Red Devils have won all four matches so far at Euro 2020 and won all 10 qualifiers for the tournament. The team are unbeaten in 13 consecutive matches in all competitions, since a loss to England last year in the Nations League.
The last-16 ties will be completed on Tuesday with a huge showdown between England and Germany at Wembley in London while Sweden and Ukraine meet at Hampden in Glasgow.
England will be looking for their first win over the Germans in a tournament knockout match since the 1966 World Cup final, something their manager Gareth Southgate tried to play down on Sunday.
“I don’t need to demystify it. The history is an irrelevance to them,” he said of his players.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2021