Sub Jesus Navas tapped home two minutes from time to snatch the victory and send his side into the quarter-finals as Group C winners.
del Bosque heaped praise on the Croats who defended in numbers and looked to catch Spain on the break. del Bosque admitted: “It was a very tense match, very tough. They closed ranks at the back very well and didn’t give us much space.
“We threw on Cesc (Fabregas) because we needed not only possession of the ball but someone to get forward into goalscoring situations.
Goalscorer Jesus Navas said Spain were made ‘fight’ for their win. “It was a tough match and they managed to play their game well. It was difficult to penetrate their defence. We are the kind of players who go all out for victory because that is what we believe in and what we want. They were a great opponent, and played on an equal level to us. They marked pretty well, and it was very difficult for us to get through. Nevertheless we were able to fight for this victory.
Andrés Iniesta agreed: “It was a very difficult game, they had chances. Well, it was a hard game to play because of the situation, for the fact that we were nearly qualified, but well, we were there until the end, and then we got the goal that calmed everything down.
Del Bosque’s Croatian counterpart Slaven Bilic, who is joining Lokomotiv Moscow after the finals, switched to a more defensive formation, with in-form striker Mario Mandzukic ahead of an offensive midfield trio led by playmaker Luka Modric.
The ploy almost paid off in the 59th minute but Iker Casillas brilliantly blocked Ivan Rakitic’s close-range header.
“I’ll have several sleepless nights after missing a great chance to give us the lead,” said midfielder Rakitic.
“But we have no regrets because we left it all out there on the pitch, we played our hearts out and we can bow out with our heads high.
An emotional Billic insisted the future is bright for Croatian football.