In what was a dramatically different match from Spain’s 6 - 0 demolition over Croatia back in September; Croatia defeated Spain 3 - 2 in Zagrab in tonight’s UEFA Nations League Group 4 match.
Tonight, Croatia started similar to that match in September, when they put pressure on Spain’s high defensive line and conjured two great chances early on. Zlatko Dalic’s men were dangerous on the counter-attack early here too — only this time they sustained it throughout the 90, and were much better defensively too. They put numbers on the flanks, defending in a bank of six and three at times — blocking crosses and preventing overloads from Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba who couldn’t get into good positions offensively. Rebic and Perisic caused all kinds of problems on the flanks, and though Spain tried to get numbers back regularly to help Sergi Roberto on the left in particular, sometimes their high line just couldn’t recover:
They also often pressed high when De Gea had the ball:
Spain had trouble creating anything offensively in the first half. Rodrigo and Aspas had to drop deep to help with build-up, and neither Isco nor Ceballos were making threatening off-ball runs in-behind Croatia’s lines. It was 0 - 0 at half-time, and if you stopped watching there — you missed out on one of the most entertaining halves of international football since the World Cup concluded.
In the 54th minute, Croatia’s solid press paid off, as they coaxed Sergi Roberto into giving the ball away. Kramaric pounced:
GOAL CROATIA— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) November 15, 2018
Kramaric is gifted the chance as Spain try to play out from the back and he makes no mistake.
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Spain responded immediately, with (finally) a great offensive sequence. Saul’s touch breaks Croatia, Aspas’s patience was surgical, and Isco and Ceballos combine for the equalizer:
The entire match, from that point on, was a complete gong-show, with both teams going back and forth in a proper melee. Morata missed a header point-blank, Aspas hit the bar on an open net, and Croatia threatened over and over again with a ton of space on the counter. David de Gea made a big save on a Rebic breakaway, and Spain got lucky on some back decision-making in the final third from Rakitic and Kramaric which prevented them from conceding more.
Amid it all, Modric provided Croatia with a moment of wizardry, and Alba, who was stuck on the right flank, had no one covering for him at his usual far post:
That made it 2 - 1. While Ramos equalized through a penalty nine minutes later, Spain continued to be vulnerable in transition, and Croatia — who were completely relentless in their energy — scored the winner in the 93rd minute, as Tin Jedvaj completed his brace. I’m not entirely sure what happened on that goal yet as I need to re-watch it properly, and there is a lot of stuff to breakdown in this match that I haven’t mentioned here. Join Diego and I on the post-game show for our Churros y Tácticas Patrons, which will be published in about half-hour or so.