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Euro 2012 - Group C Matchday 3 Recap

Spain and Italy battle through to the quarter finals of Euro 2012

Group C

Qualification for the knockout stages of Euro 2012 had been far from straightforward for the nations involved in Group A and Group B – and Group C followed in exactly the same suit in Poland on Monday evening.

With Spain and Croatia drawing for the majority of their encounter in Gdansk, Italy briefly assumed top spot in the group after hitting the front against the Republic of Ireland in Poznan, courtesy of a headed goal from Antonio Cassano on 35 minutes.

Despite being tied on five points with Spain and Croatia and boasting a worse goal difference overall, the Azzurri had their noses in front due to their goals scored tally in head to head matches involving the three nations.

A 1-1 draw in Gdansk however would have eliminated Italy from the tournament unless they were able to find a further two goals against the already eliminated Irish.

Thankfully perhaps for those not quite so naturally gifted in mathematics, matters never really got too complicated in the end and the two quarter-final berths were signed and sealed after substitute Jesus Navas took advantage of a goosed Croat defence to bundle the ball home two minutes from time – putting Spain back on top of Group C and in line to face the runners-up of England’s group on Saturday night.

The Iberians breathed a huge sigh of relief after a mediocre performance and a couple of direct scares inflicted by Croatia who were rather unlucky in the end.

Indeed, Luka Modric and co paid a fitting tribute to departing boss Slaven Bilic with a tirelessly committed display and the Tottenham Hotspur playmaker almost ran the show at times.

And it was his delightful cross with the outside of the boot which fell onto the head of Ivan Perisic who went agonisingly close to opening the scoring.

Croatia were also denied a penalty after becoming stronger in the second half, however Sergio Busquets was let off the hook by referee Wolfgang Stark after he seemingly hauled down Ivan Rakitic in the area.

With Sevilla winger Navas securing Spain’s place in the last eight, all Italy had to do was see out their battle with Ireland and they eased over the line late in the day thanks to a second goal from Mario Balotelli who began the match as a substitute.

Italy’s tournament credentials had been questioned prior to the big kick off in Poland/Ukraine following an on-going match fixing scandal which had directly affected the preparations of coach Cesare Prandelli and his experienced squad.

And so, it was no surprise to witness the Italians filled with elation at the final whistle in Poznan after learning their fate.

The Azzurri will play in the final quarter-final on Sunday evening and many will foresee their opponents being England who require just a point against Ukraine in their final Group D clash to sneak through to the knockout phase as runners-up behind the French.