Of the five Barça players at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux on Tuesday night, only Ivan Rakitic was smiling at the end of the ninety minutes. Croatia had pulled off a somewhat unexpected 2-1 win, which means they finish top of Group D at Euro 2016.
And top spot is no token honour. The win puts Croatia on what is at least in theory the much easier side of the bracket in the knockout stages. Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Andrés Iniesta and the rest of the Spain team now find themselves in the same half as hosts France, world champions Germany, the much-fancied England and the ever-strong Italy. And it’s precisely the Italians who they’ll be meeting next, at Sant Denis in Paris on Monday 27 June at 6.00pm CET in a re-run of the 2012 final.
Croatia, meanwhile, will play on Saturday 25 June at 9.00pm CET against one of the teams that qualifies in third place from their group. All smiles after the win, Rakitic said “we deserved that result after the way we battled today. We deserve the chance to dream.” And asked how it had felt to take on his four Barça colleagues, he joked that “after seeing the way they played, I have to say I much prefer it when they are the same team as me!”
Spain’s loss was all the more surprising after their impressive start, with former Barça man Cesc Fabregas chipping the ball over the Croatian keeper and Morata tapping home his third goal of the tournament. But Croatia approached the game well, and Rakitic had already hit the crossbar before Kalinic got them level on the stroke of half-time.
At 1-1, Spain still led the group and had the chance to make doubly sure of that when awarded a more than dubious penalty on 70 minutes. But Sergio Ramos squandered the spot kick and Perisic then grabbed a late winner for the Coats with just three minutes on the clock.
Meanwhile in Lens, Turkey were looking for a miracle. After losing their first two fixtures, their only hope was to beat the Czech Republic by as wide a margin as possible and even then nothing was guaranteed.
Marshalled by captain Arda Turan, the Turks got the win they needed, 2-0 thanks to goals from Yilmas and Tufan. That result squeezes them ahead of Albania in the ranking of third-placed finishers and they now face a nervy wait on Wednesday evening. They need just one of the third-placed teams in Group E or F to end with a poorer record than their own, which at least on paper is by no means impossible.
Germany, with Ter Stegen in the squad but yet to feature in any games, confirmed top spot in their group earlier on in the day with a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland, who along with Poland also progress from Group C.
Barça’s other representative in France this summer is Thomas Vermaelen, whose Belgium side face Sweden at 9.00pm CET. As long as they can avoid a heavy defeat, the Belgians will be going into the last sixteen.