By Fitzgerald Cecilio

Gdansk, Poland

Defending champion Spain needed a late goal from substitute Jesus Navas to knock out Croatia, 1-0, and advance to the quarterfinal round of the European Championship 2012 at PGE Arena.

The substitute forward, who replaced ineffective Fernando Torres in the 61st minute, kicked the game-winning goal into an empty net in the 88th minute from a pass by Andres Iniesta inside the area.

Spain is bidding to become the first country to win three major football events, after winning the 2008 Euro Championships and the 2010 World Cup.

The Spaniards, who topped Group C with seven points, advanced to the last eight together with Italy, which blanked Ireland, 2-0, at Stadion Miejski. Spain and Italy will face the winners in Group B, with France, England or Ukraine as possible opponents.

Italy finished second with five markers while Croatia was third with four points and Ireland went home with no points to show.

"It was a difficult game for us, we had a high percentage of ball possession and we proved we can control the game," said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque, who recently signed a contract extension with the team.

"We were fighting for a victory, not a draw, and we have taken a step forward here by qualifying, this is motivation for the quarter-finals," he added.

Spain dominated most of the game, controlling the ball 72 percent of the time but was stymied by Croatia's defense, which tallied seven saves compared to just three by the Spaniards.

Croatia also had several opportunities to take the game away but goalkeeper Iker Casillas made key stops in the second half, blocking Ivan Rakitic's header in the 59th minute and Ivan Perisic's low volley in the 79th.

Meanwhile, the Italians got goals from Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli goals to beat the Irish.

Cassano scored on a header in the 35th minute past the outstretched arms of goalie Shay Given and Mario Balotelli scored on a stunning overhead kick past Given in the 90th minute to seal the win for Italy.

The victory snapped a five-match winless streak for Italy, which began the tournament with two draws against Spain (1-1) and Croatia (1-1). The Italians also lost three friendly games to Russia, United States and Slovakia.


Euro 2012 Top Stories

Soccer - Spain And Italy Move on to Euro 2012 Quarterfinal Round