Navas rescues Spain, sends Croats out
© AFP

Defending champions Spain are into the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2012 after substitute Jesus Navas hit a late winner in their nervy 1-0 victory over Croatia, who bowed out.

Spain qualify as Group C winners and will now play their quarter-final in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday against the Group D runner-up, while Italy finish second thanks to their 2-0 win over Ireland in Poznan.

Having come on for Chelsea star Fernando Torres in the second-half, Sevilla's Navas hit the 88th-minute winner after Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez chipped the Croatian defence and Andres Iniesta provided the final pass.

"It was a difficult game for us, we had a high percentage of ball possession and we proved we can control the game," said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque. "We were fighting for a victory, not a draw and we have taken a step forward here by qualifying, this is motivation for the quarter-finals.

"The team played well, even though things didn't go according to plan," the coach added. "We have no preference whether it is France, England or Ukraine, we have to be ready to take whatever comes."

It was a difficult game for us, we had a high percentage of ball possession and we proved we can control the game.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque

The defending FIFA World Cup™ winners top the group with seven points after their opening draw with Italy and 4-0 rout of Ireland, while there was only heartbreak for Slaven Bilic's Croatia.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque named an unchanged team, while Bilic abandoned the 4-4-2 formation he used in the opening win over the Republic of Ireland and the draw with Italy for a 4-2-3-1 formation.

As they had done in Thursday's hammering of the Irish, Spain started with almost 80 per cent possession, which never dropped below 60, as Croatia seemed content to hit long balls down to lone striker Mario Mandzukic. On a rare early forage into the Spanish half, Bayern Munich's Danijel Pranjic fired a shot to the left of Spain goalkeeper Ilker Casillas, who dealt with the left-footed strike comfortably on 25 minutes.

Croatia defender Vedran Corluka was booked for dissent soon after as German referee Wolfgang Stark chose not to award a penalty appeal after Spain's Sergio Ramos sliding tackle caught Mandzukic's ankle.

It remained goalless at the break and news of Italy's lead against the Irish raised the tension inside the Gdansk stadium noticeably as the second half wore on. Croatia's best chance came approaching the hour mark when Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric crossed in for Ivan Rakitic's header, but Casillas parried away their best chance of the game.

After a fairly ineffective first 60 minutes, Torres made way for Jesus Navas in the three-man forward line, but both sides squandered chances.

With time almost up, the decisive blow came when Xavi Hernandez floated his pass over the defence for his Barcelona team-mate Iniesta to draw Croatia's goalkeeper Stipe Pleitkosa and put Spain in the last eight.