La Roja’s Dominant Start in Euro 2024 with 3-0 Win Over Croatia

La Roja’s Dominant Start in Euro 2024 with 3-0 Win Over Croatia

The German capital woke slowly. Blurry from the night before and the demolition of Scotland. More like Berlin with a sore head and by the time vision cleared and focus returned the place was teeming with Croatia supporters.

More than 50,000 in their red-and-white everything bringing new meaning to the city of Chequered Point Charlie. They outnumbered Spain fans by about 10 to one, stirring up a raucous din as they descended on the Olympic Stadium to unfurl their banners and light their flares.

Then they ran into Luis de la Fuente’s irresistible team, who rattled in three goals inside the first 45 minutes, scored by Alvaro Morata, Fabian Ruiz and Dani Carvajal, and made the Croatians look as if this might be one tournament too far.

Zlatko Dalic’s team were easily sliced open by the Spanish, who are more purposeful under new boss De la Fuente than his predecessor Luis Enrique. They retain all the technical artistry but can be more direct.

Record breaking teen Lamine Yamal dazzled down the right and Pedri flickered inside with the fizz he brought to Euro 2020. Morata answered the doubters with the opening goal and Ruiz excelled beside Rodri.

Alvaro Morata gave Spain the lead against the run of play after a rapid counter-attack 

Fabian Ruiz worked an opportunity with brilliant footwork and finished well to double the lead

Fabian Ruiz worked an opportunity with brilliant footwork and finished well to double the lead

They were clinical, too, in response to another regular criticism and economical. Once the game was won, they protected their energy levels and goalkeeper Unai Simon made some splendid saves in key moments, including a penalty save near the end of the game to deny Bruno Petkovic amidst a little cameo by Michael Oliver and his team of Premier League officials.

If Germany’s five goals against feeble Scotland was the first statement performance of Euro 2024 then here was one to eclipse it, less than 24 hours later.

Not against 10 men, horribly out of form and recently beaten at home by a depleted Northern Ireland, this against the team who reached the semi-finals of the last World Cup and came into this tournament on the back of a win against Portugal.

Croatia had their moments and summoned a flourish at the end but they will leave Berlin shaken by how easily they were exposed at the back and how difficult they found it to get their big players into the game.

Their three starting midfielders boasted 372 caps between them with Modric winning his 176th cap in the stadium where he first sampled major tournament football, when Croatia lost 1-0 against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup.

He was an unused sub that day and boss Dalic was among the fans in the crowd. Yamal was not even born. At 16 years and 338 days, Yamal’s appearance here made him the youngest ever to play in the European Championship finals.

He was up against Josko Gvardiol, deployed at left back by Dalic as he often is by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Gvardiol was one of three City players involved, along with Mateo Kovacic and Rodri, who had a hand in the opening goal in the 29th minute when he picked up a loose ball in midfield and moved it swiftly to Ruiz, whose pass sent Morata clear.

Spain captain Morata is sometimes ridiculed for his erratic finishing, but he drove forward, clear of recovering defenders, onto his left foot and produced a confident and clinical low finish to give his team the lead.

It was his 36th goal for his country. Only David Villa, Raul and Fernando Torres have more.

The second blow came quickly, this time a slick move across the pitch from right to left rather than one to slice Croatia down the middle.

Yamal found Pedri who picked out Ruiz, on the move outside the penalty area. Ruiz jinked past Modric and Brozovic before Dominik Livakovic was beaten for the second time in three minutes.

Croatia responded after each goal forcing fine saves from Unai Simon. First from Mateo Kovacic at 1-0 and then from Brozovic at 2-0.

Gvardiol also fired across goal and wide as he arrived at the back post but they conceded the third just before half time.

Yamal delivered from the right flank, a teasing inswinger with his left foot and Carvajal timed his run and beat Livakovic on the volley with the outside of his right boot.

Goalkeeper Livakovic made splendid save from Yamal after a slick move and a beautifully weighted final pass by Pedri before a carousel of replacements and a flurry of chances at the other end of the pitch.

Marc Cucurella made a vital block and Simon saved Petkovic’s penalty. Ivan Perisic pounced on the rebound and squared for Petkovic to find the net but Oliver’s VAR Stuart Attwell noticed Perisic had been encroaching into the penalty area when the kick was taken.

The goal was ruled out and Croatia accepted their fate.

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