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Spain's Jesus Navas (center) celebrates after scoring against Croatia during their Group C Euro 2012 match at the PGE Arena in Gdansk. Spain won 1-0. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters
World champion made to battle, but still advances to Euro quarterfinals, AFP reports.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque admitted the defending champion was not at its best despite beating Croatia 1-0 in Gdansk to reach the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 on Monday as Group C winner.
"The team played well, even though things didn't go according to plan," said Del Bosque, who started but then took off Fernando Torres for Jesus Navas of Seville, who promptly bundled in the only goal of a somewhat shapeless match that could have gone either way.
The World Cup winner topped the group with seven points after its opening draw with Italy and 4-0 rout of Ireland, Slaven Bilic's Croatia bowed out with four points after Italy leapfrogged the Croats with a 2-0 win over Ireland.
"There was a lack of clarity compared with other occasions," said Del Bosque.
"The truth is it was not a great game overall and this should concern us."
Del Bosque took over after Luis Aragones had led the Furia Roja to glory in 2008 before he himself masterminded further success at the World Cup in South Africa.
Another European title this summer would make history, as no country has won three major events on a roll before.
"We were fighting for a victory, not a draw, and we have taken a step forward here by qualifying, this is motivation for the quarterfinals," Del Bosque said.
"We did not have many clearcut chances, which is also to their credit," said Del Bosque, whose men now likely face either France or England from Group D after surviving a test of patience and nerves given that a Croatian win coupled with Italy's success would have left them eliminated.
"We have no preference whether it is France, England or Ukraine, we have to be ready to take whatever comes."
Asked if he could put his finger on what had been lacking in Monday's showing he said: "Our first touch was not so good, and thanks to that, we dipped in terms of speed and intensity.
"We suffered, but then, so did they. We had 17 efforts on goal to eight for them and also more possession than them.
"But Croatia played well - they did not let us play in our comfort zone, closed down the spaces and tried to hit us on the counter-attack, though we were mostly in control."
Casillas makes case for the defense
Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas showed the defending champion is not just about tiki-taka and attacking virtuosity as he produced an alert performance to help see off Croatia.
"It was a really tough game, but that's normal in this kind of competition," said the Real Madrid shotstopper, who comfortably fielded a speculative effort from Danijel Pranjic midway through the first half, then did well to parry an Ivan Rakitic header in the second period with the score still goal-less.
"We were very nervous, and that didn't make it easy. We lacked a little calm."
Casillas said recognized Spain's rivals will always up their game against the best side in the world.
(China Daily 06/20/2012 page24)