Until the 87th minute of this afternoon’s match against Spain, the biggest news Croatia had made at Euro 2016 was when fans threw a bunch of explosives and flares onto the pitch during a game against the Czech Republic. Croatian fans were reportedly planning another attack during the 30th minute today, but they remained under control and watched on as their team, down Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić, handed Spain their first Euro loss since 2004. Not only did their team beat the defending champs, they gave themselves an easier path to the final and shook up the tournament in the process.
Spain came out hard early and were creating chances from the first minute of the game, scoring easily a few minutes later after David Silva played a perfectly incisive ball past young Tin Jedvaj.
Croatia responded immediately, and ramped their high-pressing up even harder. Spain’s backline looked uncomfortable dealing with constant pressure from Croatian midfielders, and the underdogs got a few well-placed turnovers, one of which Ivan Rakitić was unlucky to miss. They finally got their goal right before the end of the first half.
After 25 tense minutes of soccer, Silva went down in the box after Šime Vrsaljko got pushed into him by a Spanish player. It was a weak penalty, and Sergio Ramos of all people stepped up to take it. Darijo Srna gave keeper Danijel Subasic a warning, and sure enough, he knew exactly where Ramos was going to hit it.
After the game, Subasic confirmed that Ramos’ Real Madrid teammate Modric relayed the information to Srna, saying:
Luka Modric send a message through Srna to wait for Ramos and that he will shoot to my right side. And that’s what happened.
Somehow, the game got wilder after that. After Aritz Aduriz had a shot blocked at the edge of the box, Marko Pjaca played a perfect ball out of the box to Nikola Kalinić, and Ivan Perišić ran past five Spaniards, received the ball, and calmly buried it just inside the outstretched foot of David de Gea. 2-1, Croatia. They had to clear a David Silva shot off the line a full two minutes after stoppage time to hold on for the win, but they did, and they won their group.
With the goal, the unbeaten Croatians not only ensured that they’d leave the Euros with a famous victory, but they’ve also scrambled the bracket all up. If they lost, they would have had to face Italy, and if they advanced, they would have been on the side of the bracket featuring Germany, England, and France. Now, they’re alongside Switzerland, Wales, and whoever wins Group F, which is most likely going to be Hungary. Spain now join the other two tournament favorites, ensuring that most everyone who expected to win this tournament is going to end up disappointed.
This assures that an unheralded soccer nation is going to at least get into the final, and that the opposite side of the bracket will be chaos from the start.
The best two things that can happen in an international soccer tournament is that an elite player gets hot and destroys everyone, or an underdog makes an unlikely run to the final. Because of the weird bracket shake up, there’s a very real chance that someone like Paul Pogba mauls everyone he plays, scores 11 goals, and, say, Wales makes it to the finals of their very first major tournament. And it’s all thanks to Ivan Perišić’s incredible run.