Defeat to Croatia could cost Spain dearly, but Group D encounter justified hype: Euro 2016 talking points

Every match day during Euro 2016, The National's Premier League correspondent Greg Lea is breaking down every match and its key moments.

Croatia's fans were understandably ecstatic after their team beat Spain in the group stages of Euro 2016. Loic Venance / AFP
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Croatia 2-1 Spain: Cacic’s charges shock holders

One of the most eagerly-anticipated encounters of the group stage did not disappoint, with Croatia coming from behind to defeat Spain and advance in top spot in Group D.

Having controlled possession in their previous clashes with Czech Republic and Turkey, a different task awaited Ante Cacic and his players in Bordeaux as Spain began the game with their usual patient passing patters.

The holders took the lead in the seventh minute through Alvaro Morata, with Spain beating Croatia’s poorly-executed high press and carving their opponents open with their incisive, slick distribution.

Croatia settled into their own rhythm soon after, though, and Ivan Kalinic’s cute equaliser on the stroke of half time was just reward for their all-round performance in the opening 45 minutes.

Spain seemed content with a point the longer the match went on but were left stunned when Ivan Perisic struck on the counter-attack with just over two minutes of normal time left to play.

It was a moment that could prove costly, with Spain now set to face Italy in the last 16 before potentially facing Germany and France before the final.

Northern Ireland 0-1 Germany: World champions top group

While the narrow scoreline may suggest a hard-fought German victory, Northern Ireland could easily have lost by four or five goals.

Joachim Low’s men dominated from start to finish in Paris, creating an abundance of goalscoring opportunities while comfortably containing the majority of Northern Ireland’s counter-attacks.

Michael O’Neill had goalkeeper Michael McGovern to thank for keeping the scores down, with the Scotland-based custodian delivering a superb performance between the sticks.

His interventions were vital, too: Northern Ireland later secured their place in the knockout rounds as one of the best third-placed teams, with a goal difference of zero helping to get them over the line.

Germany, meanwhile, will reflect positively on their most dominant display yet.

Ukraine 0-1 Poland: Contrasting fortunes for Euro 2012 co-hosts

Ukraine’s hopes of progressing to the knockouts were ended with their 2-0 loss to Northern Ireland last time out, with Poland wrapping up second spot with this slender triumph.

Although manager Adam Nawalka named an attacking line-up, it was Poland’s defensive strength that got them over the line at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.

Kamil Glik and Michal Pazdan were terrific in the heart of the backline, with Grzegorz Krychowiak again impressing in the holding role in midfield.

Poland have still not conceded a goal at Euro 2016. While Robert Lewandowski is arguably the best centre-forward in the competition, the Poles’ solidity at the back has been their major plus point so far.

Czech Republic 0-2 Turkey: Victory might not be enough

Turkey were substandard in their first two outings against Croatia and Spain, but this was a much-improved showing.

Fatih Terim’s side took the lead through Burak Yilmaz early on, with Turkey then digging in to withstand a wave of Czech Republic pressure.

Their lead was doubled by Ozan Tufan in the 65th minute, with the Czechs unable to demonstrate the same clinical touch in front of goal as their opponents.

Despite this win, though, Turkey may still not make it out of Group D, with results on Wednesday set to determine their fate.

Split draw could mean surprise finalist

Results this week mean France, England, Germany, Spain and Italy are all on the same side of the draw in the knockout stage.

Holders Spain will take on Euro 2012 runners-up Italy in the round of 16 on Monday, with the winner of that tie likely to face world champions Germany in the quarter-finals.

England and France could also meet at that stage of the competition, with the former throwing away first place in Group B by drawing with Slovakia on Monday.

On the other side of the draw, Croatia, Switzerland, Poland and Wales – who have all made sure of their place in the last 16 – cannot face any of the five heavyweights above before the final.

Player of the day

Mesut Ozil was fantastic as Germany overcame Northern Ireland, the Arsenal man at his playmaking best in the No.10 role.

Goal of the day

Poland striker Arek Milik’s fine reverse ball picked out Jakub Blaszczykowski in the Ukraine penalty area, with the Fiorentina winger throwing two defenders off course by rolling his studs over the ball with his right foot before smashing it into the top corner with his left.

Howler of the day

Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was miles off his line by the time Sergio Ramos connected with his second-half penalty, an offence that the fifth official and linesman really should have spotted.

Decision of the day

It could easily have backfired, but Ante Cacic’s decision to rotate his Croatia line-up paid off: not only were five players rested, five others were given a chance to establish their credentials – an opportunity they all grasped with both hands.

Statistic of the day

Toni Kroos completed more passes than the entire Northern Ireland team put together.

Thing to look forward to

The denouement of Group F has the potential for drama, with Hungary, Iceland, Portugal and Austria all still able to reach the knockout stage.

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