GDANSK, Poland -- Three thoughts on Spain's 1-0 victory against Croatia, which sent Spain (first place) and Italy (second) to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals, while Croatia and Ireland were eliminated:
• Spain walked too fine a line here. So let me get this straight: The reigning world and European champion played the majority of the second half with something close to a shrug knowing that a Croatia goal could knock the Spanish out of the tournament? I don't get it. Spain dominated possession, as it always does, but until Jesús Navas' late goal the Croats had the single best goal-scoring chance, with Ivan Rakitic's wide-open header in the box being saved miraculously by Iker Casillas in the 59th minute. (The pass from Luka Modric was fantastic, by the way.) The Spaniards are now through to the quarterfinals, but they hardly produced a performance that would scare tournament co-favorite Germany.
• Why no Fernando Llorente? It's clear that Plan A is for Spain to play the way it always has in recent years, but if that's not working (and it wasn't Monday night), then it makes little sense to bring on a winger like Navas without also bringing on Llorente, Spain's only real aerial threat in the box. Llorente had a terrific season with Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, and he could bring a completely new dimension to Spain's attack if coach Vicente del Bosque would use him. But that hasn't happened yet in the tournament, and I wonder now if we'll see Llorente at all. If it sounds like I'm bagging on Spain too much here, considering they just advanced first in the group, maybe it's because we're used to such high standards from them.
• The quarterfinals shouldn't trouble Spain much. A quarterfinal matchup with England, France or Ukraine shouldn't scare the Spanish, particularly if the opponent is England or Ukraine. But I do find it interesting that this Spanish team has a tendency to win in recent major tournaments without doing so spectacularly. (It's hard to count the 4-0 win against Ireland, which has been the worst team in Euro 2012.) Remember all those 1-0 wins by Spain in the knockout stages of World Cup 2010? I'd like to see the Spanish come out in the quarters and just pound someone, if only to serve notice the Germans. Survive and advance works in tournaments, but blowing teams away with entertaining soccer and goals galore is more fun.
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