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Spain vs Croatia: Under-21 EURO background, form guide, previous meetings

Croatia's first U21 EURO knockout tie could scarcely be more daunting, against holders and five-time champions Spain at Maribor's Stadion Ljudski vrt.

David Čolina (centre) previously scored for Croatia against Spain in a U17 EURO final tournament
David Čolina (centre) previously scored for Croatia against Spain in a U17 EURO final tournament UEFA via Getty Images

Croatia's first U21 EURO knockout tie could scarcely be more daunting, against holders and five-time champions Spain at Maribor's Stadion Ljudski vrt.

• While Group D runners-up Croatia have never played in the tournament's knockout rounds, Group B winners Spain have now qualified from their section in their last five finals appearances and have never lost a U21 EURO knockout game before the final since the tournament format was introduced in 1998.

• The winners of this tie will face Portugal or Italy in the semi-final on 3 June in Maribor.

U21 EURO group stage Skills Showcase

Previous meetings
• All seven of the sides' previous contest have come in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Spain winning five of them – although Croatia were triumphant in the most recent, a 3-0 victory in Burgos in the qualifying tournament for the 2017 finals, Stipe Perica's double adding to a Duje Ćaleta-Car opener. Spain had won 3-2 in Croatia in November 2015, Gerard Deulofeu scoring twice either side of a Marco Asensio goal, and ultimately finished second in the section behind Sweden to reach the play-offs. Croatia were eliminated having finished three points and one place lower.

• That Croatia win had ended Spain's run of five successive competitive wins against them, a sequence that included home (2-1) and away (3-0) victories in the play-offs for the 2011 tournament.

• Deulofeu was also on the scoresheet when the sides met in the 2013 qualifying competition, finding the net in a 6-0 victory in Alicante in which Álvaro Vazquez scored twice and Pablo Sarabia, Isco and Martín Montoya once each. Koke and Rodrigo had got the goal in Spain's 2-0 victory in Osijek, Spain ultimately finishing first in the section having won seven of their eight games – and going on to take the title – with fourth-placed Croatia eliminated.

Highlights: Spain 2-0 Czech Republic (2 mins)

• The sides' only previous final tournament meeting came in 2000, a goalless draw at the Štadión Antona Malatinského in Trnava on Matchday 2. Spain eventually finished second in Group A on five points and beat hosts Slovakia in the third-place play-off; debutants Croatia ended bottom, that draw producing their sole point.

• Mario Vušković's penalty equaliser earned Croatia a 1-1 draw against Spain in the European U17 Championship qualifying round on 25 October 2017.

• Spain's Antonio Blanco came off the bench to equalise David Čolina's opening goal for Croatia in the 1-1 draw between the teams in the group stage of the 2017 European U17 Championship. Hugo Guillamón, Juan Miranda and substitute Abel Ruiz were also in the Spain side, with Bartol Franjić starting for Croatia. 

• Abel Ruiz scored the only goal as Spain beat Croatia in a U17 friendly on 16 February 2017; Čolina and Franjić plus substitute Vušković were all in the Croatia side with Miranda also starting for Spain. Čolina and Franjić had also played in a 2-1 Croatia victory two days earlier with Ruiz and Miranda representing Spain.

• Iñaki Peña and Marc Cucurella were in the Spain side that drew 0-0 against Croatia in the group stage at the 2015 U17 EURO; Adrian Šemper and Nikola Moro were unused Croatia substitutes.

Form guide

All of Spain's goals so far

• Spain have won five U21 EURO titles, a joint competition record along with Italy.

• This is Spain's eighth appearance in the U21 final tournament since 1998, and a sixth in the competition's last seven editions. They have only failed to get past the group stage once in those eight participations, in 2009, and have reached the final in each of their last four, lifting the trophy in 2011, 2013 and 2019.

• Current coach Luis de la Fuente – who succeeded Albert Celades in July 2018 – led Spain to a 2-1 final victory against Germany in Udine in 2019. His side had finished first in Group A, level with hosts Italy and Poland on six points but top in the three-way head-to-head, before beating France 4-1 in the semi-finals.

• Spain have lost only three of 39 European U21 Championship games (W31 D5) – against Italy on Matchday 1 at the 2019 finals (1-3), in qualification at home to Northern Ireland on 11 September 2018 (1-2) and Germany in the 2017 final (0-1).

• De la Fuente's team won nine of their ten qualifiers in booking their place at the 2021 finals, dropping points only in a 1-1 draw in Israel on 19 November 2019. They won their next five qualifiers, keeping a clean sheet in each, and have now not conceded in 729 minutes of competitive football. They finished on 28 points, ten ahead of North Macedonia at the top of Group 6.

• Spain conceded only one goal – a penalty – in qualifying, which gave them the best defensive record; no other team conceded fewer than four.

• Spain have won 20 of their last 24 matches at the final tournament (D2 L2); the 2019 defeat by Italy was their first in the group stage since a 2-0 reverse to England on 18 June 2009.

• De la Fuente also led Spain to the 2015 UEFA European Under-19 Championship title in Greece.

• Spain qualified unbeaten for this quarter-final as Group C winners, picking up seven points from their three games thanks to wins against co-hosts Slovenia (3-0) and the Czech Republic (2-0) either side of a goalless draw with section runners-up Italy.

• Spain, Portugal and Denmark all came through the group stage without conceding a goal.

• Spain's record in U21 quarter-finals is W5 L3. They were beaten in three of the first five but have won the last three, most recently 1-0 against Russia in 1998. They have not lost a last-eight tie since being eliminated by Italy in 1990 (1-3 a, 1-0 h).

Watch all Croatia's goals so far

• All three of Croatia's previous U21 EURO final appearances ended in the group stage. In 2019, they finished bottom of Group C behind Romania, France (both seven points) and England (1). Nenad Gračan's side lost to Romania (1-4) and France (0-1) before that 3-3 draw against England.

• That 2019 appearance ended Croatia's 15-year wait to feature in the final tournament; the previous appearance had come in 2004 when, as on their 2000 debut, they finished bottom of their section having failed to win a game, drawing one and losing two on each occasion.

• Croatia's record in the finals is now W1 D3 L8 F15 A24.

• In qualifying for the 2021 tournament, Igor Bišćan's side finished second in Group 4 a point behind the Czech Republic, taking 20 points from their ten games (W6 D2 L2). Croatia were unbeaten in their last six qualifiers (W4 D2), a 10-0 defeat of San Marino in Zagreb on 8 October 2020 the team's biggest ever victory.

• Croatia squeezed through to this stage as Group D runners-up, a 3-2 win against Switzerland on Matchday 2 proving crucial either side of defeats by section winners Portugal (0-1) and England (1-2). Domagoj Bradarić's 90th-minute goal in the latter fixture proved decisive in sending Croatia through at England's expense after both sides, plus Switzerland, had finished with three points.

• This is Croatia's first appearance in the U21 quarter-finals.

Highlights: Croatia 1-2 England (2 mins)

Links and trivia
• Spain's Brahim Díaz (AC Milan) and Gonzalo Villar (Roma) and Martin Erlić (Spezia), Boşko Šutalo (Atalanta) and Ivor Pandur (Hellas Verona) of Croatia all play in Italy's Serie A.

• Spain's Josep Martínez (Leipzig) and Petar Musa (Union Berlin) of Croatia play in the German Bundesliga.

• Sandro Kulenović scored in Legia Warszawa's 3-2 UEFA Youth League loss against Real Madrid in October 2016.

• Kristijan Bistrović played 90 minutes as CSKA Moskva won 3-0 away to Real Madrid on Matchday 6 of the UEFA Champions League on 12 December 2018.