Spain dethroned as Italy set up showdown with Germany
Italy march on at Euro 2016 as Spain's bid for a third European crown comes to a premature end
Italy 2 Spain 0
Spain's search for an unprecedented third consecutive European crown has ended in comprehensive defeat to Italy, although the departure of the champions was somewhat overshadowed by England's humiliation at the hands of Iceland later that night.
Goals in each half from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle at the Stade de France saw off Spain and set up Italy for a mouth-watering quarter-final clash against Germany at the weekend. "It's not the best era for Italian football so we can't rely on great players, I've had a battle to make people realise this," explained Italy coach Antonio Conte. "Spanish football is in rude health so we should be extra proud of beating them."
Conte was far smarter than Vicente del Bosque, his Spanish counterpart, with the future Chelsea manager using wing-backs Mattia de Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi to great effect. Spain had no answer to the more imaginative and aggressive Italians and it was no surprise when Chiellini got the first goal on 33 minute, pouncing on the rebound after David de Gea could only half save Eder's free-kick.
It was harsh on De Gea, because the Manchester United goalkeeper kept Spain in the tie before and after the opening goal with a string of athletic saves, including two fine efforts from Eder and substitute Lorenzo Insigne. But not even De Gea could keep out Pelle's stoppage time volley as the 2008 and 2012 winners were dumped out at the last 16 stage "They were probably better," conceded del Bosque, when asked about the Italians. "They don't play great football but they are strong in the air, very physical and they were dangerous. We came out in the second half with a chance and the players tried to do the best they could. We tried everything but we couldn't score."
Spain's best chances to score came late on in the second half when the Italians led by just one goal, but Sergio Ramos headed wide and Gianluigi Buffon denied Gerard Pique with a superb diving stop.
Despite the victory, Conte was keeping his feet on the ground, aware that having disposed of the European champions Italy must now deal with the reigning world champs. "From tomorrow we'll start to think of Germany," he told reporters. "For me Germany are on a higher level to everybody... we're going to need something super-extraordinary for that game, not just extraordinary."
Italy's job hasn't been made any easier by the quarter-final suspension picked up by Thiago Motta, who was shown a yellow card in the penultimate minute having come on as a replacement for the injured Daniele de Rossi. "We are without Thiago Motta and that's a big blow, also because De Rossi took a knock to his hip," admitted Conte. "But we know that in adversity, we give that little bit more."
But the message from Giorgio Chiellini was more bullish with the goalscorer declaring: "After years of Spain dominating, we have been able to get some revenge. This is just the beginning, we will enjoy this victory but there is still a long way to go until the end. The best is to come."
Croatia stun Spain as Euro 2016 draw opens up for Wales
Spain's grip on the European Championship loosened dramatically last night following a last-gasp goal from Ivan Perisic that will be mourned in Madrid but welcomed in Wales.
Perisic beat an uncharacteristically nervous David de Gea in the 87th minute to win the game for Croatia, who recovered from a goal behind and also saw Spain miss a penalty in Bordeaux.
The late goal put the Croats top of Group D and relegated the Spanish to second place - and the bottom half of the draw. Vicente del Bosque's men now face Italy in the biggest clash of the last 16.
If the title-holders pass that test, then they will probably meet Germany in the quarter-finals followed by France in the semis - unless England pulls off something unexpected.
Only five European sides have ever won the World Cup and they are all now in the bottom half of the draw.
Meanwhile, Croatia, equal 27th in the world, join Switzerland Wales and Poland in the top half of the last 16. Belgium are almost certain to be there, as are Portugal, along with two third-placed teams.
Perisic's goal changed the whole complexion of Euro 2016, says Oliver Kay of The Times. "It is now a tournament of two halves - heavyweights in one half, dark horses in the other."
That makes England's inability to beat Slovakia on Monday all the more damaging.
"The contrast in difficulty is summed up by the fact that the bottom half has nations with a total of 20 major titles (11 World Cups and nine European Championships), while there is a grand total of none in the top half," says the Daily Mail.
England and Wales will find out who they next face when the group stages conclude tonight and the complicated third-place equations are sorted out.
Roy Hodgson's side will face the second-placed team from Group F, who are currently Iceland, although it could also be Portugal, Austria or Hungary.
While that may look like a relatively easy assignment, the Three Lions are expected to meet France in the next round.
Wales, on the other hand could end up facing Northern Ireland, but Turkey look more likely opponents.
Ozan Tufan checks his hair as Luca Modric scores for Croatia
Turkish midfielder Ozan Tufan has become the first social media victim of Euro 2016 after he was caught fixing his hair instead of closing down Luka Modric in the build up to Croatia's winning goal on Sunday.
Real Madrid star Modric's long-range strike settled the match. But fans were quick to point the finger at Tufan when replays appeared to show him indulging in some male grooming as his opponent prepared to shoot.
Tufan seemed unaware of the danger from Modic as he jogged out of the Turkish box, brushing his hair back off his face.
However, Turkish TV highlighted the lapse in concentration from the 21-year-old and it prompted a barrage of criticism for the Fenerbahce midfielder on Twitter.
It was a "lesson in how not to defend against one of the premier midfielders in world football", says Bleacher Report.
Whether or not a more urgent response would have prevented Modric from scoring no-one knows, but the reaction should serve as a "warning" to other players at Euro 2016, adds the website.
Euro 2016 – Group D preview: Are Spain there for the taking?
Being drawn in the group featuring a side who have won the last two European Championships would normally be a smack in the face for any nation. Yet the Croatians, Czechs and Turks can take heart from Spain's insecurities.
Nevertheless, Vicente del Bosque's squad feature enough talent to win not just the group, but Euro 2016 itself. If they play to their strengths, the other three sides in group D will have to battle for second place.
Spain: Odds 5-1
Over the last eight years, the Spanish have won two European championships and a World Cup – so why is there such a sense of uncertainty over their prospects?
Spain's dreadful attempt to defend their World Cup in 2014 – complete with a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the Dutch – sent them into a period of navel-gazing from which they have struggled to emerge.
"They are surrounded by doubt, especially in midfield and up front," says The Guardian.
But they should not be written off. Former England star turned football pundit Chris Waddle tells the BBC they are his pick to win the tournament.
Croatia: Odds 25 - 1
Key playmakers Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric are the midfield heartbeats of Barcelona and Real Madrid, making the Croatians a creatively potent and attractive team on their day.
However, the duo's efforts may be in vain as first-choice striker Mario Mandzukic managed only one of Croatia's 20 goals in the qualifiers.
Nevertheless, ESPN says: "If Croatia come together as a team, then there is no reason why they can't match their achievements in 1996 and 2008 and reach the last eight."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has also talked up their chances of doing well.
Czech Republic: Odds 100-1
Pavel Vrba is in charge of a plucky outfit that can make life uncomfortable for bigger sides by sitting deep and soaking up the pressure. They lost just once during the qualifying campaign and land in France off the back of a 6-0 warm-up win against Malta.
Although over-reliant on the form of Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky, Czech Republic's 4-2-3-1 formation sees them attack at speed on the flanks. "Getting beyond the group stage is certainly not out of reach," says the Guardian.
Turkey: Odds 66-1
Three games into their qualifying campaign, Fatih Terim's team were level on points with Kazakhstan at the bottom of their group. But they then beat Holland, the Czech Republic and Iceland to roar into the finals.
That momentum could see them punch above their weight in France. They have plenty of creativity in midfield thanks to Arda Turan, Hakan Calhanoglu, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Yunus Malli. But their weakness at the back could be their undoing.
The key players
Spain's Álvaro Morata will leap out of the pack, says the Guardian, describing him "a clever player, with remarkable dribbling skills". However, the Daily Telegraph prefers the chances of team-mate Andres Iniesta in what is likely to be his swansong, praising the "wonderful control, balance and technique" of the "world's finest midfielder".
More than other groups, this is one in which the goalkeepers could stand out. Cech, who has been Czech footballer of the year seven times in the past ten years, will be vital in a national side that likes to attack. Spain's David de Gea could also be one to watch, should he secure the starting berth.
Meanwhile, Rakitic has an almost musical ability with passes, box-to-box stamina and a bright reading of the game. The Barca playmaker could be a joy to behold.
The key matches:
Czech Republic vs Croatia on 17 June has the makings of a crunch tie. With both sides vying to join expected group leaders Spain in the hat for the next round, there will be edge to this match, with neither wanting to face the lottery of a third-place finish.
However, later that evening is another intriguing clash as the Spanish face group outsiders Turkey. After their poor showing in the 2014 World Cup, it is easy to imagine a few wobbly knees in the Spanish dressing room as they face a side that put several big noses out of joint on their way to France.