A goal two minutes from time by substitute Jesús Navas earned Spain a hard-fought victory over Croatia that sent Vicente del Bosque's side through to the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals and eliminated their opponents from the tournament.
Both teams knew a victory in their final Group C game would ensure a passage through to the last eight as section winners and following a tense encounter at the Arena Gdansk, it was Navas who settled matters after slotting home Andrés Iniesta's lay-off in the closing moments at the Arena Gdansk.
With Slaven Bilić opting to sacrifice striker Nikica Jelavić to incorporate a compact 4-5-1 formation, the game quickly took on a pattern of Spain possession and Croatia counterattacking. The holders pressed and probed for openings in the final third of the field and fashioned the first chance of the night with Fernando Torres heading over from a Xavi Hernández corner.
A constant threat throughout the encounter with his quick feet and excellent vision, David Silva then found the tightest of openings through which to thread a low pass in for Andrés Iniesta whose first touch could only help the ball into the path of goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa.
Scorer of two goals in his team's 4-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland, Torres appeared hungry to add to his tournament tally as he stormed goalwards from the right flank before thumping a low drive at the target which Pletikosa beat out for a corner. As the half progressed, Xabi Alonso looked to alleviate the sense of frustration building in his team-mates and went close with a long-range shot that flew narrowly over the crossbar, the same fate that then befell Gerard Piqué’s tester from outside the box.
With news filtering through of an Antonio Cassano opener for Italy against the Republic of Ireland in Poznan, Croatia – looking to progress to the EURO quarter-finals for a second successive time – began to move forward with more purpose and tested Iker Casillas through Danijel Pranjić's left-foot effort which the goalkeeper gathered.
With so much at stake, tension began to fill the warm air at the Arena Gdansk. Luka Modrić looked to show the way when he confidently led a counterattack that eventually saw the Tottenham Hotspur FC schemer arc a wonderful pass to the far post with the outside of his right foot which Ivan Rakitić met with a header that was denied by Casillas's flying stop.
That chance prompted a change in Spain's tactics with Torres making way for Navas and it led to the match eventually turning in La Roja's favour. Prior to that, the team's second substitute, Cesc Fàbregas was crowded out after taking too long over a shot while Casillas was called on again to palm out Ivan Perišić’s drive at the other end.
With the game seemingly heading for a draw, Fàbregas chipped through for the onrushing Iniesta to run clear and, spotting team-mate Navas alongside him, he delivered the pass for the winger to finish and send Spain through.