Spain manager Vicente del Bosque has congratulated his players for progressing to the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2012 despite widespread criticism of their performance in the 1-0 win over Croatia on Monday. Substitute Jesus Navas scored the winner three minutes from time to ensure that the FIFA World Cup™-winners topped Group C with seven points from their three games.
However, Del Bosque's men were on the back foot for spells throughout the game and were thankful to captain Iker Casillas for a wonderful save from Ivan Rakitic's header which, had it gone in, could have put the Croats through at Spain's expense.
The former Real Madrid boss insisted his side controlled the majority of the game and defended his decision to again play without a natural striker once Fernando Torres had been withdrawn with half an hour remaining.
He told AS: "I watched the game again last night. Everyone who has analysed it said we struggled a lot but I realised that we didn't do things so badly. The threat existed but I think we did things relatively well. It was a horrible game for us. The talk of fixes and pacts and that a draw suited us made it a very difficult game.
"I accept you are not in agreement with what I saw. There are distinct opinions. You always have to look at the results. Defensively, there was only Rakitic's chance and a shot from (Darijo) Srna. We didn't have penetration but that can happen in football.
"I think they had more difficulty than us when we had a striker and when we didn't. With Fernando (Torres) and without him there were two separate games, like the day against Italy. The Rakitic effort has left us with this sensation but I wouldn't say Croatia dominated."
Del Bosque bristled at what he appeared to deem a lack of appreciation for his side but reminded detractors the World and European champions are still very much in the running. "We have gone from a poor man to a rich man very quickly and now we don't value anything. We don't value what we have.
"I think we are fallible and we have to transmit that to the players but we have passed through to the quarter-finals and we haven't seen any congratulations of that. I think we have qualified superbly and will continue in the same manner. The future is in our hands and we will see where we end up but I hope it is the final."
Meanwhile, Andres Iniesta has rounded on Spain's critics after their nervy 1-0 win over Croatia but reiterated his belief that the EURO 2012 will be even harder to win than the World Cup two years ago. Iniesta laid the ball into Navas for a simple finish in one of the very few constructive moves Spain put together all night, but the Barcelona midfielder says it is impossible to win every game easily.
He told Marca: "All the criticism is valid as long as it is constructive. Everyone has their own way of looking at things. When we don't like what we have seen we don't think it is correct, but I would say to the fans to be calm and to believe in the team no matter who plays because every team has its difficult moments.
"Yesterday we had ours because we are not an exception. It is true we would have liked to have won 2-0 or 3-0 but it wasn't like this. Iker (Casillas) put in a fantastic performance. We respect the fans and what they think but I would say the team is fine and we remain in the fight.
"Before the start of the Euros we said that to win again would be the most difficult target yet. The opponent can also play. Croatia is a great team and they have players of a very high level that want to beat the world champions. In two years' time it will be even more difficult still. This is part of the goal, to win what we have already but with more difficulty."