Bordeaux (France), June 22 (IANS) Ivan Perisic will remember the first day of summer 2016 for the rest of his life as he brought Croatian football fans all over the country and those in the stands of Stade de Bordeaux to ecstasy with his winning goal in the 87th minute of the clash with reining European champion Spain.
It was a stellar performance from Inter Milan forward here on Tuesday evening and the whole of the depleted Croatian team that national manager Ante Cacic sent against powerful Spain, reports Xinhua.
Croatian coach left Real Madrid star Luka Modric and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic on the bench allowing them to recuperate from injuries. Cacic also left on the bench three more players that were in a starting eleven against Turkey and the Czech Republic and gave a chance to young guns, defender Tin Jedvaj, midfielder Marko Rog and forward Marko Pjaca to show that they are part of this team with a reason.
They responded like veterans, playing against world stars Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busqets, Sergio Ramos and others like equals.
“We showed that they are not out of this world, that they are humans like us,” said 20-year-old Marko Rog who was playing in an amateur Croatian league just three years ago and didn’t show any fear when he stood against some of the best players in the world.
“I am glad that we showed that head coach can rely on us. Of course, everybody deserves respect but there is no reason to be afraid of any team,” the 21-year old Pjaca, who is Rog’s teammate in Dinamo Zagreb, said.
Their role was to fill the void left by Modric’s and Mandzukic’s absence and to let other stars to shine. So they did do just that and let Ivan Perisic to shine like a sun on the longest summer day of the year. Perisic’s skills were at display throughout the whole match. He was involved in every single chance that Croatian team created at Stade de Bordeaux on Tuesday.
He was all over the pitch, helping Croatian defenders to stop dangerous Spanish attacks and creating a chaos in front of Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea. His perfect right footed cross found Nikola Kalinic in front of De Gea and a little flick was all that it took Fiorentina forward to score an equalizer in the 45th minute.
In the 87th minute Perisic and Kalinic were in the inverted roles after Marko Pjaca’s perfect pass that opened a chance for a counter-attack. Kalinic sprinted with a ball under control and waited for Perisic to get in ideal position on the left side.
Perisic got the ball on the left side of the penalty box, got one step closer and fired a shot that Gerard Pique deflected a little, just enough to make it pass beside de Gea and send Croatian fans to delirium.
“This is a special night but it’s only the beginning,” said Ivan Perisic who was named the man of the match.
Without his goal Croatia would end up second in Group D and would face Italy, another big name in the world of football.
“Italian team can be happy. Now they don’t have to face Croatia,” Perisic added.
After the match against the Czech Republic when Croatian hooligans nearly managed to stop the play and cost Croatian team disqualification, French police and 2016 EURO organizers were alert and didn’t allow anyone suspicious to enter the stadium.
German victory against Northern Ireland took a lot of pressure from Croatian players as they knew that they’ve qualified to knockout stage whatever the outcome of the clash with Spain would be. Playing pressure free, Croatians showed how dangerous they can be, even without such an important players like Modric and Mandzukic are for this team.
“This is not a miracle. I knew that these players are capable for this. That’s why I have picked them,” said Croatian manager Ante Cacic.
But, even though he was on the bench and ready to play, Luka Modric had a big impact on the outcome of this match.
It was in the 70th minute that referee Bjorn Kuipers saw Vrsaljko’s challenge on Silva as a foul and awarded a penalty to Spain. Spanish captain Sergio Ramos took the ball. At the same time, Croatia captain Darijo Srna signaled Luka Modric to tell him where Ramos will shoot. Modric answered and Srna was quick enough to transfer the message to Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
“He told me that Luka told him to wait for Ramos shot and then dive to my right. He was right and I saved the penalty,” said Subasic.
It was 22 years ago that Croatia got its only win against Spain when legendary Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker scored in Valencia. It was four years ago that Croatia had to beat Spain at 2012 EURO in Ukraine and Poland. After missing some good chances, Croatian players allowed Spaniards to score and this is how they’ve missed the knockout stage.
On a beautiful Tuesday night in Bordeaux Croatian players refused to lose and that’s how they’ve got the victory, one of the biggest in the team’s history. However, players and head coach Cacic know that they can do much more.
“We are first in our group. This is a big result but we don’t want to stop at that. If we play like we can, then we’ll have a chance against any team in the world,” Croatian manager Ante Cacic said.
This is what he was saying since the first day he took the charge of this team and in the beginning there weren’t many that believed him. Now they know he was not over confident about his players or his abilities to lead them. He turned those into believers, too.