Spaniard Álvaro Morata finds something more to beat Croatia in thriller | Euro 2020


It was a score from another age and a match for the ages, a wild, thunderous and implausible afternoon that went from ridiculous to sublime and back again. It left the people here as exhausted as the players were there, struggling to remember everything that had happened but certain that they would never forget how it made them feel. The kind of game that left a lot of questions, including: how do you explain it? Where to start with that?

With the score: 5-3? With the 35 blows? With the fact that Spain won, to secure a place in the quarter-finals? Or the fact that they had to win twice? With the incredible revival of Croatia? With the noise, the occasion, the nerves? With quality, and there were plenty? With the heart, of which there was still more? With stupidity, because there was some too? What about the goal that ultimately ended this perhaps, finally carrying Spain through a storm?

Only then – when, with the clock at 99 minutes, everyone’s Álvaro Morata knocked the ball down with his right foot and smashed a sensational shot into the net with his left to send beer flying in the air and his teammates and staff sprinting off the bench running in ever-growing circles of delirium – no one in this place would allow themselves to believe that it was really over.

Of course Spain were leading 4-3 in overtime and, yes, with fatigue setting in and the pitch feeling bigger by the second, Croatia ultimately had no way of coming back this time around. But they still had 21 minutes to try and no one doubted that they would or even be able to pull it off. Stranger things have happened, after all. Stranger things had happened here before, in fact. Strange, almost surreal, brilliant things. So many of them.

So where to go? Maybe at the next goal that really ended him, Mikel Oyarzabal scoring the eighth goal? Except that Spain had led by two before and had been caught. Unai Simón’s sensational save at 3-3, his redemption revealed as a turning point? One of many, anyway. To the extraordinary impact of Mislav Orsic, who scored his first international goal and whose compatriots surely wish they had been on the pitch throughout this astonishing afternoon? Scorer for César Azpilicueta his first? Pedri, the youngest player to ever play at this stage and the one who honored him so gloriously?

Or maybe you go back to the very beginning and the goal against his most bizarre side, marked by Pedri but attributed to Simón? The problem was that by the time this match ended – with both groups of singing supporters having shared something special, the Croatian fans were still able to hold on to the pride of having participated despite the devastation of defeat – it seemed so far away. Too much had happened since, although they couldn’t figure out exactly how.

In short, what happened was this: Croatia led 1-0, Pedri’s back pass somehow slipped into Simón’s right boot and into the goal, such an unexpected moment that some Spanish players did not even see it but they heard it, their curiosities trained on the field. Spain then imposed a clear superiority which should have already allowed them to lead and which was finally expressed when Pablo Sarabia equalized just before half-time, Azpilicueta led Spain in front and Ferrán Torres added a third to finish in the 77th.

Except that Croatia refused to let it stop there; it’s not the team it was in Russia, but it’s not a quitting team either. There is character there, and not a little quality. And so somehow they found their way, a wonderful run from Luka Modric culminating with the ball just over the line by Orsic on 85. A late substitute, Orsic then delivered a magnificent center from which Mario Pasalic headed in a dramatic equalizer over 92 minutes, this place in eruption. Spain appeared once again denied, unable to understand what was happening to them.

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Especially since Orsic, not yet done, even offered Croatia a great opportunity to lead at the start of extra time. This time, Simón made a save as difficult to understand as the set had been, a save that could yet set up their entire tournament. Notably because that’s when Dani Olmo’s superb cross found Morata and he, the man who was whistled by his own fans, went and made this. A glorious goal, a moment that will be remembered for a long time. And then a few minutes later, Oyarzabal made 5-3.

And that, football fans, is the condensed version, just the basic facts. “As for the title, I have one for you,” Luis Enrique said afterwards. “Enjoy soccer. There isn’t enough space on this page, nor enough words to express everything everyone had, everything that had happened, the emotions aroused, the craziness of it all. “Damn football hell,” a wise man once said, and even that stops dead in their tracks. In the end, there were hugs, looks of disbelief, laughter too, and tears, so many tears. Maybe justice had been served – except that justice and joy would have been to come back and do it again tomorrow at the same time, in the same place. In the end, only Spain went through it, but somehow it mattered less than the fact that they had all been there for a story they will be telling for years – s ‘they can find where to start.

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