COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Croatia were crestfallen following their exit from Euro 2020 in a 5-3 extra time defeat by Spain after a riveting fightback in their last 16 clash at Parken Stadium.
"I am sad because we are out of the tournament and I feel sorry for our fantastic fans and the players who left it all out there on the pitch," said coach Zlatko Dalic
A bizarre own goal by Pedri fired the Croatians ahead but they looked down and out after Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres put Spain 3-1 ahead.
Late substitutes Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic engineered a spectacular comeback and forced extra time but goals from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal sank Croatia, whose striker Andrej Kramaric spurned a sitter with the score 3-3.
"They are a good team who will punish you for every mistake you make but the chance we missed in extra time when it was 3-3 was decisive," added Dalic.
Captain Luka Modric conceded Croatia were on the back foot after taking the lead when Pedri's back pass from near the halfway line bounced over goalkeeper Unai Simon's foot and trickled into the net.
"We were fortunate to be 1-0 up but after that Spain dominated for an hour as we sat back too deep," the 35-year old told Croatia's HRT state broadcaster.
"We showed character to fight back late in the second half and had them on the ropes early into extra time, but after missing a pair of sitters the match went the other way and we didn't have the strength to fight back again."
Dalic acknowledged Croatia paid the price for slack defending, with 19-year old left back Josko Gvardiol at fault for two of Spain's goals.
Midfielder Nikola Vlasic was disconsolate.
"When we netted twice in quick succession to draw level my heart was as big as a house and then it broke after we conceded twice," he told HRT. "Unspeakable sadness."
Orsic made his first appearance of the tournament having sat out Croatia's opening three games on the bench and made an instant impact when he came on late in the second half.
His goal pulled Croatia back to 3-2 and the pacy winger then delivered an inch-perfect cross for fellow substitute Pasalic to head home the equaliser, but the superb cameo display mattered little to the 28-year old.
"It's difficult to say now what we could have done better," said Orsic. "We failed to score at the game's turning point whereas Spain took every chance they created and deserved to win.
"I want to thank our fans for turning up en masse in Copenhagen, their support willed us on to fight until the bitter end but we were running on empty in extra time."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)