Spain’s Álvaro Morata finds something extra to beat Croatia in thriller

A scoreline from another age and a match for the ages, a wild, thunderous and implausible afternoon that went from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again, that left everyone up here as exhausted as they were down there, struggling to remember everything that had happened but certain that they would never forget the way it made them feel. Where do you even start with this?

With the goal that ultimately brought this to an end perhaps, finally carrying Spanje through a storm? Enigste, at that moment when, with the clock in the 100th minute, Álvaro Morata of all people brought the ball down with his right foot and smashed a sensational shot into the net with his left to send beer flying through the air and teammates and staff sprinting off the bench running in ever increasing circles of delirium, no one in this place would allow themselves to believe it was really over.

Sure, Spain led 4-3 deep into extra time when tiredness took hold, but there were still 20 minutes to go for Croatia to turn it around again and stranger things have happened. Stranger things had happened before their eyes in fact. Strange, almost surreal, brilliant things. So many them. And so, still where to go next?

Perhaps the next goal that really did end it, Mikel Oyarzabal making it 5-3? Unai Simón’s sensational save at 3-3? The extraordinary impact made by Mislav Orsic, leading Croatia from 3-1 down to level in seven mad minutes? The 92nd-minute header that took the roof off this stadium and seemed, momentarily, to have destroyed Spain, unable to work out how it had happened? Or maybe you go back to the very start and the most bizarre own goal you could wish to see?

Only by the time this ended, both sets of supporters clapping, singing together having shared something special, even Croatia’s fans able to cling to this, a sense of pride at having taken part in this, at having been here to see it, despite feeling devastated by defeat. As they left, which they were in no hurry to do, they were still wondering what had happened. And what had happened was this: Croatia had gone 1-0 up, Spain had recovered to make it 3-1 and then, just when it appeared done, op een of ander manier, Croatia hit them twice to take this into extra time.

Where, the craziness continued. En, it should probably be said, justice was done – only justice would have been both of these sides going through. Op die ou end, only Spain did. But somehow, that mattered less than the fact that they had all been there, part of an occasion they will talk about for years, a game they will tell their children about one day – and they won’t know where to start either.

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