Under-par Spain left it late to score and top group C but Jesus Navas finished off a hard working Croatia side who had their chances to take a shock lead and perhaps even condemn Spain to an ignominious exit as Italy beat the Republic of Ireland, who had Keith Andrews sent off, 2-0 in the other group match.
Substitute Navas had a simple tap-in after being put through by Andres Iniesta in the closing stages of their match against Croatia. The Croats had almost nullified the Spanish attacking threat but couldn’t take the few chances that were presented to them as Spain struggled to convert their possession to goal threat.
Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli made sure of an Italian win with a late second goal after he hooked a corner over his shoulder and into the back of the Irish net. Antonio Cassano had earlier scored Italy’s opening goal with a header that was judged to have crossed the line despite a clearance by Damien Duff.
Leonardo Bonucci had to be on hand to silence Balotelli following his goal after the young City striker appeared to be aiming some ill-judged barbs at the Italian bench rather than celebrating after he had been dropped from the starting lineup by coach Cesare Prandelli.
The Spanish, therefore, will face the side that finish second in England’s group on Saturday, with an ordinary looking Italian side scheduled to face on the Group D winners on Sunday.
England will look to welcome back Wayne Rooney following suspension for their game against Ukraine tomorrow and news that Theo Walcott has recovered from a tweaked hamstring sustained on Sunday has also boosted manager Roy Hodgson.
UEFA have kindly listed the permutations for Tuesday’s Group D deciders:
• England will be through with a draw. If they lose, they have to hope France lose by enough so that England at least end level with Les Bleus on goal difference and goals scored (as England have a superior coefficient, 33.563 to France’s 30.508).
• Ukraine will be through with a win and out with any other result.
• France will be through with a draw. If they lose, they would only be out if England lose but at the same time move level with them on either goal difference or goals scored.
• Sweden are out.
Of course, there’s going through and going through and avoiding Spain, so basically England have to go for a win to have a chance of avoiding Spain and preferably hope that Sweden can get something against the French to help them along the way.
UPDATE: Twitter was briefly ablaze on Monday night with remarks about BBC commentator Simon Brotherton who, during the Spain v Croatia match, repeatedly confused Manchester City’s attacking midfielder David Silva with injured Spain forward David Villa who isn’t even in the Spain squad!