- Associated Press - Monday, June 18, 2012

WARSAW, PolandSpain and Italy confirmed their heavyweight reputations at the European Championship on Monday, advancing to the quarterfinals after winning their final group matches.

Defending champion Spain sealed top spot in Group C by beating Croatia 1-0 with a late goal by substitute Jesus Navas. Croatia’s football association faces a UEFA charge on Tuesday over its fans’ racist abuse of Italy forward Mario Balotelli last week.

Balotelli came off the bench to score Italy’s second goal in a 2-0 victory against Ireland, lifting the Azzurri above Croatia in the standings. Antonio Cassano had opened the scoring for the Azzurri.

Earlier, UEFA President Michel Platini said he was “not happy” with Croatia fans at Euro 2012.

Meanwhile, UEFA punished Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner for revealing a sponsor’s name on his underpants after scoring a goal in his team’s opening game.

Italy's Leonardo Bonucci goes along  for the ride as he hops on the back of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to celebrate a win over Ireland. (Associated Press)
Italy’s Leonardo Bonucci goes along for the ride as he hops on ... more >

The victories for Spain and Italy will send them from their Poland-based group to quarterfinals in Ukraine against either the co-host, England or France.

Spain will play on Saturday in Donetsk, and Italy goes to Kiev on Sunday.

Elaborate Spanish possession play failed to create many scoring chances in Gdansk, despite the World Cup winners knowing a 1-0 loss would mean a ticket home.

Iker Casillas, the goalkeeper and captain, saved Spain with a double stop from Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic in the 59th minute, then parried Ivan Perisic’s low volley in the 79th.

Spain’s passage was confirmed when Navas, who replaced Fernando Torres, struck in the 88th, tapping into an empty net from a pass by Andres Iniesta after the pair had broken the offside trap.

Italy knew that a 2-0 win would not be enough in Poznan if Spain and Croatia drew 1-1.

Antonio Cassano continued his impressive recovery from minor heart surgery in midseason to score with a header from a 35th-minute corner, glancing in a header at the near post that had too much pace on it for goalkeeper Shay Given to keep out.

Ireland showed attacking intent after appearing overwhelmed in previous losses, but midfielder Keith Andrews was sent off for collecting a second yellow card in the 89th.

One minute later, Balotelli scored by hooking a volleyed shot over his left shoulder.

Balotelli, a target for racist abuse in both Italy’s earlier matches, appeared then to vent anger and emotion. One teammate tried to try to calm him and covered his mouth.

Story Continues →