Croatia 3-5 Spain (AET): Alvaro Morata answers critics in eight-goal Euros classic

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·4-min read
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Alvaro Morata scored a crucial goal in extra-time for Spain against Croatia at Euro 2020 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Alvaro Morata scored a crucial goal in extra-time for Spain against Croatia at Euro 2020 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

When it mattered most, Alvaro Morata rose above the chaos, critics and despicable death threats to deliver for Spain.

After La Roja suffered a comical own goal - which followed a Morata missed chance - and let a two-goal lead slip in second-half stoppage time in Copenhagen, the striker seized his moment in extra time to crown a fine performance.

The former Chelsea man has endured questions, ridicule and opened up on death threats received by himself and his family for his struggles at this tournament, but offered the most timely reminder of what he can do on the biggest stage.

For many this tie had the feel of the ultimate chess match. Two teams, one in white and the other in black, built around metronomic midfields ready to test one another in a tactical battle. It quickly moved away from any preconception and into pandemonium, however.

Spain - high-octane and far more direct under Luis Enrique, who has now helped them rediscover a scoring touch with 10 goals in two games - dominated the early stages.

Luis Enrique, dressed for a middle-aged session at Wetherspoons, had given his players a clear instruction: keep the ball well away from Luka Modric.

Not only did they manage that, but the masterful midfielder was so suffocated by the Spanish start that he struggled to get out of his own half.

The plan was going perfectly and those in white were in complete control. Pablo Sarabia sent one effort into the side netting and Koke was denied after going one-on-one with Dominik Livakovic before Morata did himself no favours with a dud of a header after a fine cross from Ferran Torres.

Less than a minute after Morata’s wasted chance, Luis Enrique’s well-laid plan was completely undone by one of his own.

Pedri sent the most innocuous of long balls back to his goalkeeper, Unai Simon, who opened his body to control but managed just the finest of touches and watched the ball roll into the net behind him.

Spain recovered well and, just before the break, were level through Sarabia, following up after Jose Gaya saw one shot blocked and another parried by Livakovic, who could do nothing to stop the equaliser cannoning in off his face.

Croatia looked to get in Spain’s face after the break but were quickly picked apart as Pedri and Ferran Torres got down the left, the latter crossing for Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta to head home his first goal for Spain.

Luis Enrique’s side were well on course for the last eight when Ferran Torres turned goalscorer, Croatia caught on their heels by a long diagonal free-kick from Pau Torres to his namesake, who collected well and steered the ball under Livakovic.

Spain looked out of sight, but were stunned as Croatia moved further away from that preconception and went direct with their play.

The Spanish central defenders, Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte, were rattled.

First Modric snuck to the byline and cut back for Mislav Orsic, who just bundled his effort over the line.

Spain, who had been deserving of a victory, were challenged to hold on for six added minutes but could not - a high ball their undoing once more.

Orsic turned provider this time, sending a well-placed cross in between Pau Torres and Laporte, where Mario Pasalic was waiting to nod past Simon and take the chaos into extra time.

Spain were stunned and Simon had to make a superb save from Andrej Kramaric.

Then came Morata’s moment. The striker had fluffed a first-half chance but led the line superbly in Denmark, before finding his touch in front of goal. The 28-year-old collected Dani Olmo’s cross on his right foot, shifting it to his left with a fine first touch before hammering home at the near post with his second.

His strike lifted the Spaniards and then his ability to aide their build-up was on show once more as he sent Olmo down the right to cross for Mikel Oyarzabal, who poked his effort into the corner and, eventually, sealed passage through to the last eight.

Morata is used to being maligned, but is known to be a player who suffers from criticism more than most. Some has previously been fair as the striker is a baffling enigma capable of fluffing the clearest of chances but also delivering in this manner.

Stick more to the latter and Spain, having not really been fancied a couple of weeks ago, may be quite the prospect at this tournament.

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