Croatia stunned defending European champions Spain 2-1 in Bordeaux to top Group D and earn a more favourable draw in the last-16 of EURO 2016.
Strikes from Nikola Kalinic and Ivan Perisic, either side of half-time, condemned the Spaniards to their first European Championship loss since June 2004 – despite in-form forward Alvaro Morata firing the Red Fury in front after just seven minutes inside the Matmut Atlantique, before Sergio Ramos failed to convert a second-half penalty.
The Blazers were without key duo Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic due to injury, meanwhile manager Ante Cacic also opted to drop Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic and Marcelo Brozovic from the starting line-up that faced Czech Republic on Friday.
Meanwhile the Red Fury remain unchanged following their comfortable 3-0 victory over rock-bottom Turkey last time around, with boss Vicente del Bosque sticking with the same victorious XI.
And it was Spain; who are looking to win a third successive European crown in France this summer, who sprinted out of the blocks to net the opener in Bordeaux after just seven minutes.
David Silva executed a beautifully piercing through ball to feed Cesc Fabregas through on goal, before the Chelsea midfielder’s shot eluded goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and found in-form striker Morata at the far post.
However Croatia almost equalised within seven minutes of the restart – only for the woodwork to spoil their party.
After David De Gea’s mistake at back, the ball fell kindly for Ivan Rakitic, whose brilliant first-time long-ranged chip beat the Manchester United shot stopper and the backtracking Gerard Pique, only for the ball to cannon off the bar, post and then bounce off the goal line. Cacic’s men couldn’t have come any closer!
Perisic; who scored his country’s opener against Czech Republic last time out, almost netted in back-to-back Euro fixtures earlier on, but his header was nodded over following Darijo Srna’s inviting ball in.
But after defender Ramos spurned a free header down the other end, the Blazers did eventually capitalise upon their pressure to grab an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Perisic did brilliantly down the left-flank to lose his marker; Juanfran, before curling in a dangerous delivery, which was delightfully converted by the swinging heel of Kalinic.
All square at the interval; Croatia started the second period much like they ended the first-half and threatened to take the lead shortly before the hour-mark.
After ‘keeper De Gea made a hash of trying to punch clear Srna’s cross, despite then managing to instantly block Tin Jedvaj’s first-time effort, Marko Pjaca’s resulting overhead kick from the parry was just a whisker away from creeping in at the near post.
Moments later; Spain skipper Ramos wasted another free header from another Silva set piece, before the Real Madrid star made a hash of an even better chance after 71 minutes on the clock.
Sime Vrsaljko was adjudged to have tripped Silva in the penalty area, gifting the centre-half the opportunity to restore the Red Fury’s lead from 12 yards out. But the inspired Subasic saved well with his hands to keep the score level with just 20 minutes remaining inside the Matmut Atlantique.
Substitute Aduriz almost connected with a Juanfran delivery in the final ten minutes, which proved to be a costly miss for the defending European champions – as man of the match Perisic did net in successive EURO 2016 matches in the dying moments of the game.
Croatia broke on the counter with Kalinic on the halfway line, before feeding the ball out to winger Perisic on the left-flank, who surprisingly beat De Gea at his near post to wrap up a historic win for the Blazers – their first victory over Spain since 1994, which was their first-ever away win since the country’s independence.
Man of the Match: Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
The Inter Milan was a menace to Spain’s defence, especially full-back Juanfran, as Perisic inspired Croatia to slay the defending European champions and top Group D in Bordeaux.
The 27-year-old, who earned his 50th international cap for the Blazers tonight, assisted Kalinic’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time before sealing all three points for a delighted manager Cacic after another left-footed strike – a similar feat he achieved against Czech Republic last week.
But this winner will feel so much sweeter having secured all three points for his country, an easier knockout stage route for Croatia and a piece of history after condemning back-to-back European champions Spain to their first taste of defeat in the finals for over 12 years.
Group D winners Croatia will face one of the best third-placed nations from either Group B/E/F on Saturday night, meanwhile runners-up Spain set-up a mouthwatering last-16 tie against Italy the following day.