Spain beat Croatia 1-0 to reach
the last eight of Euro 2012 as Group C winners on Monday but it
could have been a very different story but for the brilliance of
their goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas.
Casillas pulled off a stunning reflex stop to keep out an
Ivan Rakitic header in the 59th minute at the PGE Arena in
Gdansk before substitute Jesus Navas snatched an 88th-minute
winner for the world and European champions.
Croatia battled impressively to keep the Spaniards at bay
and had they scored and held on to their lead they would have
advanced to the quarter-finals as group winners and Spain would
have been out.
Casillas has earned the nickname "Saint Iker" for his
match-saving performances for his country and will always be
remembered for denying Arjen Robben in the 2010 World Cup final.
"We knew they weren't going to just sit back and we were
expecting them to create the odd chance," Spain coach Vicente
del Bosque told a news conference.
"They had an excellent opportunity but that is why Iker is
there and he dealt with it very well," he added.
If Del Bosque was his usual gruff self, his Croatian
counterpart Slaven Bilic was far more effusive in his praise of
Casillas at his news conference.
"What can we say about him? He is probably one of the best
players of the past 10 years," said the 43-year-old, who is
stepping down to take over at Lokomotiv Moscow after the
"He is just the leader for the team and he was a hero for
them tonight," he added.
"He always knows how to react and he is so calm. Rakitic had
a great clear chance and did everything well but it's not easy
when you are facing Casillas."
Spain topped the group on seven points ahead of Italy on
five, Croatia on four and Ireland on zero.
Del Bosque's side will play Group D runners-up France,
England or Ukraine.
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