Ivan Perisic gave Croatia a late win over Spain and set up a Euro 2016 Round of 16 meeting between La Roja and Italy.
Morata netted early after a delightful through ball from David Silva found the run of Cesc Fabregas, and the now ex-Juventus forward – re-signed today by Real Madrid – converted from close range.
Nikola Kalinic equalised on the brink of half time, getting across Sergio Ramos to finish impudently at the near post, and the Real Madrid captain’s evening went from bad to worse when he had a penalty – the award of which was questionable in the first place – saved.
Perisic inflicted the ultimate punishment by breaking down the left with a few minutes to play and beating David De Gea at his near post, a slight deflection perhaps wrong-footing the Manchester United goalkeeper.
The defeat pushes Spain into Group D’s second place and means they face the winners of Group E, already confirmed as the Azzurri.
Vicente del Bosque named the same XI as the previous two group games despite Ramos risking suspension for the Round of 16 with a booking, while Croatia made five changes from the side that drew 2-2 with the Czech Republic.
Croatia started well but found themselves behind inside 10 minutes, Morata poaching after Silva’s angled pass sprung the defence for Fabregas to square for Morata.
Nolito went close moments later before a Sergio Ramos error allowed Kalinic to shoot on De Gea’s goal, but the Manchester United man was equal to it.
De Gea nearly undid his good work when he was caught in possession but Ivan Rakitic’s chip struck the post, crossbar and a defender on the line, all without actually crossing the goal line.
Spain produced some slick play, sometimes inside the Croatia area, while Croatia were competitive throughout and caused problems for Spain with some direct running.
Indeed, it was hard to shake the feeling the defending European champions would need a second goal and Ramos could have provided it from Nolito’s corner but got the header wrong, and a better touch by Morata would have put him one-on-one as well.
Spain’s profligacy was punished on the brink of the interval when Kalinic got to a near post cross before Ramos and produced an impudent finish with the outside of his foot while in mid-air to beat De Gea.
Croatia maintained the momentum after the break, denying space to Spain, De Gea being called into action and an overhead kick from Marko Pjaca dribbling just wide, a Morata toe-poke the extent of Spain’s attack.
Spain gained ground but Croatia remained dogged and disciplined, though they did lose Ramos from a Silva corner around the hour mark, and 10 minutes later Ramos was denied from 12 yards, though Daniel Subasic was so far off his line it was more like eight yards.
Both teams appeared to tire thereafter but Perisic had enough energy to overlap Kalinic and shoot early, giving Spain what on paper appears a far more difficult first knockout encounter.
Croatia 2-1 Spain
Morata 7 (ESP), Kalinic 45, Perisic 88 (CRO)
Croatia: Subasic; Srna, Corluka, Jedvaj, Vrsaljko; Badelj, Rog (Kovacic 82); Pjaca (Cop 92), Rakitic, Perisic (Kramaric 93); Kalinic
Spain: De Gea; Juanfran, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas (Thiago 84); Nolito (Bruno 59), Morata (Aduriz 67), Silva
Referee: Kuipers [NED]