Spain needed a late goal from substitute Jesus Navas to reach the European Championship quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Monday. Andres Iniesta passed to Navas inside the area after Spain broke through an offside trap, and the substitute forward kicked the ball into an empty net in the 88th minute.
“We played to the end and we deserved the win,” said Navas, who scored his second career goal for the world champions.
The defending champions dominated possession as expected but failed to create many opportunities at the Arena Gdansk. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas made a pair of clutch second-half stops. Spain, which is trying to win its third straight major title, will next face the second-place team in Group D on Saturday in Donetsk, Ukraine — with France, England and co-host Ukraine among the possible opponents.
“We made a great step forward. We qualified. That’s what motivates us for the quarterfinal. Our philosophy and style of play are good and we proved it in today’s match,” Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “The team played well even though the match didn’t go as we planned.”
Croatia could have reached the last eight with a victory, but Casillas made a reflex save on Ivan Rakitic’s header in the 59th minute before punching out substitute Ivan Perisic’s low volley in the 79th.
Italy 2, Ireland 0
Italy qualified for the quarterfinals of the European Championship after Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli scored in each half of a tense victory over Ireland in Poznan, Poland. Cassano headed in with his back to the goal by the near post following a corner kick in the 35th minute on a warm and muggy night at the Municipal Stadium Poznan. Balotelli came on as a substitute and doubled the lead in the 90th, a minute after Ireland was reduced to 10 men with Keith Andrews picking up his second yellow card. Still, Italy had to wait a few moments after the final whistle to celebrate after receiving word that Spain beat Croatia in the other Group C match.
“We suffered in the last few minutes because we were waiting for the result in the other game,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. “We have got through this group which wasn’t easy with Croatia, Spain and even Ireland who, even though they were out, gave everything they could. … Today we realized that beyond quality, you really need heart.”
Italy will meet the Group D winner Sunday in Kiev.