LA ROCHELLE, France (AP) Spain has not made many wrong steps over the past eight years at the European Championship.
However, the two-time defending champion made a series of mistakes in its 2-1 defeat to Croatia on Tuesday, which means the team now has a potentially more difficult round of 16 match against Italy.
Spain’s traditional give-and-go approach malfunctioned against the gritty Croatians. The team also lost after taking the lead for the first time since its 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Dutch in the first game of the 2014 World Cup. It had never lost after taking the lead in the European Championship since the tournament age began in 1980. The team also missed a penalty and conceded a late goal.
Putting all that together, Spain’s 14-match unbeaten run at the European Championship that stretched back to 2004 came to an end.
For a team that’s won the last two European championships as well as the 2010 World Cup, the cumulative nature of those shortcomings was somewhat of a surprise.
Following its defeat in the western French city of Bordeaux, Spain dropped to second place in Group D and will next meet the in-form Italians on Monday at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
“Now we have to face a better team,” Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “It’s football, you have to be prepared for everything. Things didn’t go our way but we have to move on. In theory we have a more complicated path, but we are Spain and we have to keep believing.”
The match against Croatia hinged largely on the 72nd minute penalty miss by Sergio Ramos, whose effort on goal was saved by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque said the decision to have Ramos as the penalty taker was made by the players themselves, and he was fine with it. Spain doesn’t have a designated penalty taker but Ramos had come fresh off a successful spot kick in the penalty shootout of the Champions League final that helped Real Madrid win.
“I was going to take it but Ramos was full of confidence,” Iniesta said. “It was unfortunate that he missed it.”
The miss encouraged the Croatians, who were playing without two of their star players, midfielder Luka Modric and forward Mario Mandzukic, both out with muscle injuries.
Ivan Perisic’s winning goal in the 87th minute came after a fast breakaway that Del Bosque said should have been prevented way by Spanish players.
“We shouldn’t have allowed that counterattack,” Del Bosque said.
Goalkeeper David De Gea, starting instead of veteran Iker Casillas, was criticized for not being in a better position to make the stop.
“We can’t blame De Gea,” Del Bosque said. “If we lose, it’s everybody’s fault.”