Football

Spain outclass Croatia 3-0 in Euro 2024 opener

June 16, 2024 7:36 am

[Source: Reuters]

Spain overran Croatia 3-0, striking three times in a sublime first half to earn maximum points in their Euro 2024 Group B opener and confirm their status as title contenders.

The Spaniards, seeking a record fourth Euro crown, struck twice in three minutes, with Fabian Ruiz setting up captain Alvaro Morata in the 29th minute before firing home himself.

Dani Carvajal volleyed in from 16-year-old Lamine Yamal’s assist, the teenager becoming the youngest player to appear at a European Championship.

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The Croats, desperate to replicate their World Cup success of recent years at the Euros where they have never won a knockout game, were no match for Spain’s clever attacking play with coach Zlatko Dalic’s plans going out the window after about half an hour.

“We pressed high with a relentless pace from the beginning and it worked in our favour against a great team,” Morata said.

“That’s what we have to do, start the game pressuring and cornering our rivals. I thought the team looked good. Now we have to think about the next one.”

Spain, who beat Croatia on penalties to win the Nations League last year, next play Italy while Croatia take on Albania.

Croatian fans outnumbered Spain supporters in the cavernous Olympiastadion by at least 10 to one but it was the Spaniards who took the initiative with a high pressing game.

Croatia, 2018 World Cup finalists and semi-finalists four years later, gradually got more of the ball to take the pressure off and carved out a half chance with an Ante Budimir header that missed the target.

QUICK GOALS

A lightning quick three-pass combination and transition with Fabian delivering a defence-splitting through ball for Morata put Spain in the driving seat.

Before Croatia had time to recover, their opponents struck again with Pedri picking out Fabian at the edge of the box and the midfielder dribbling past three players to thread the ball home.

With the Croatian defence in complete disarray, Yamal floated a cross into the box and Carvajal slipped past three defenders to volley in the third goal.

Yamal, who showed no signs of nerves in his tournament debut, almost got on the scoresheet seven minutes after the restart but keeper Dominik Livakovic pulled off a superb one-handed save to deny him.

“I think we started well, but they scored from every chance, that’s their quality. That’s it,” said Croatia midfielder Lovro Majer. “I can’t say they surprised us, we expected it. I think we also had chances, we didn’t score and they took advantage.”

“Obviously, they worked a little better than us, came out better, were more prepared. It happens. If we win against Albania, it will be a good game.”

Croatia did create a triple chance but neither Budimir nor Josip Stanisic could push the ball over the line.

They earned an 80th-minute penalty which Spain keeper Unai Simon saved from Bruno Petkovic who put the ball in the net on the rebound but his effort was ruled out for encroachment.