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Fàbregas record-breaking assist not enough as Spain lose to Croatia, setting up showdown against Italy

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Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

For the final matchday, with qualification for the next round basically assured, Croatia decided to rest a few of their stars; Spain did not.  Luka Modric, Mario Madzukic, Marcelo Brozovic all started on the bench for the underdogs, while the favorites decided to stick with same basic lineup that got them two wins and two clean sheets up to that point.  (Which also meant that Pedro's loose lips continued their bench-warming odyssey, alongside usual bench dweller César Azpilicueta.)  Only one possible winner then, right?  Wrong.

Early on, it looked like Spain would have no problems.  A wonderful combination between David Silva and Fàbregas left Álvaro Morata with a simple tap-in with less than ten minutes on the clock.

But as has often been the issue with Spain, a whole bunch of inert possession followed, and goals at the end of either half from Croatia were enough to consign the defending champions to their first loss at a Euro tournament since 2004.  Spain were perhaps unlucky as Sergio Ramos had a penalty kick saved, but Croatia's counter-attack was always a major threat — Ivan Perišić impressing greatly — and in the end, it paid off for them.

Croatia thus win the group and Spain fall into the far tougher side of the knockout bracket.  France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and England are ALL on the same side of the bracket now.  This is madness!  This. Is. Euro 2016!

So next up for Fàbregas & Co will be a test against incoming Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte.  Should be a good one.  (Plus, as a selfish side benefit, some of our boys will get to come home early!)