There was to be no shortage of Euro 2016 action on Tuesday as two Bianconeri – Sami Khedira and Alvaro Morata – took to the field in search victories against Northern Ireland and Croatia respectively to guarantee their nations’ passages to the knockout round as group winners yet on a night of drama, only of them would be successful.
In the day’s earlier 18.00 CEST kick-off, Khedira featured for just over an hour and was unlucky not to get himself on the score sheet before his withdrawal for Bastian Schweinsteiger in a dominant 1-0 victory for the World Champions.
Slicing through the Irish defence with relentless regularity, the Germans would find themselves denied on an equal number of occasions by the superb Michael McGovern whose four first-half saves kept the minnows in touch in the opening quarter.
The breakthrough – remarkably the game’s only goal - arrived however moments before the half-hour mark, Mario Gomez finishing calmly from Thomas Muller’s selfless lay-off in the penalty area.
The pattern of the encounter would remain largely the same from then on, Muller’s strike against the crossbar and Khedira’s firm drive from distance the pick of the chances as Die Miennschaft pushed for a decisive killer blow that would somehow elude them.
The result saw Germany pip Poland to top spot in Group C in spite of the latter’s win over Ukraine by the same scoreline.
Spain meanwhile were made to settle for second place as goals from Serie A colleagues Nikola Kalinic and Ivan Perisic condemned the 2012 champions to a 2-1 defeat in Bordeaux in a match that boasted a saved penalty and a two-goal comeback.
With Mario Mandzukic rested, the goal getting duties fell to Morata whose seventh-minute tap-in from Jordi Alba’s cross took the striker level with Wales’ Gareth Bale at the top of the scoring charts on three.
Alvaro’s early intervention would be as good as it got however for Vincente Del Bosque’s men who saw their lead disintegrate as first Kalinic turned home superbly on the stroke of half-time, then Sergio Ramos saw a penalty saved by Danijel Subasic and finally Perisic drilled past David De Gea three minutes from time.
In defeating the Spanish for the first time in 14 European Championship matches, Mandzukic’s compatriots will advance to the last 16 as group winners, meaning that as runners-up Spain will now face Italy at the Stade de France on Monday.
Just one of the four fixtures will have Bianconeri interest today as the aforementioned Azzurri – featuring Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza – meet Republic of Ireland at 21.00 CEST in Lille.