GDANSK, Poland -- Spain needed a late goal from substitute Jesus Navas to reach the European Championship quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Monday.
Andres Iniesta passed to Navas inside the area after Spain broke through an offside trap, and the substitute forward kicked the ball into an empty net in the 88th minute.
"We played to the end and we deserved the win," said Navas, who scored his second career goal for the world champions.
The defending champions dominated possession as expected but failed to create many opportunities at the Arena Gdansk. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas made a pair of clutch second half stops.
Spain, which is trying to win their third straight major title, will next face the second-place team in Group D on Saturday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Italy also advanced from Group C after beating Ireland 2-0.
"We made a great step forward. We qualified. That’s what motivates us for the quarterfinal. Our philosophy and style of play are good and we proved it in today’s match," Del Bosque said. "The team played well even though the match didn’t go as we planned."
Croatia could have reached the last eight with a victory but Casillas made a reflex save on Ivan Rakitic’s header in the 59th minute before punching out substitute Ivan Perisic’s low volley in the 79th.
Spain finally broke open the Croatia defense after wasting a number of late chances as Xavi Hernandez
Spain was more hesitant than against Ireland while looking forward more often than they did with Italy as Xavi and Xabi Alonso often dropped back to let fullbacks Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba surge forward in attack. David Silva also caused problems but was unable to get off any good shots.
Iniesta and David Silva orchestrated Spain’s attack and combined in the 12th minute to put Iniesta into the area, only for Pletikosa to save the Barcelona midfielder’s roller.
Fabregas entered soon after a wasted a try while alone inside the area, but Spain ultimately was rewarded for its possession and passing when Navas converted to keep the World Cup champions’ bid at becoming the first nation to win three straight major championships going.