Cesar Azpilicueta’s return to the international fold in recent weeks has been unexpected but not entirely surprising to those who have followed the defender’s career closely.
Dedicated and determined, he maintains a level of performance and consistency that simply cannot be ignored, particularly when the stakes start rising.
After two-and-a-half years away, Spain manager Luis Enrique recognised the importance of the Chelsea captain’s experience when he included him in his squad for the delayed European Championship finals.
He started the final group game against Slovakia, helping La Roja answer growing questions over their credentials at the tournament with a 5-0 thumping to set up a last-16 meeting with Croatia.
Azpilicueta repaid it, offering energy and attacking intent from right-back, causing unexpected problems with his presence in the box.
His header from close range after 57 minutes completed the Spanish comeback, a first international goal for the 31-year-old, although it was far from plain sailing from there.
Croatia rallied from 3-1 down and forced extra-time with two goals in the final five minutes. The Spaniards had to find a response again but did so, finally putting the contest to bed with a quickfire double.
‘It’s been a few tournaments since we went through a knockout match but today we broke the ice against the World Cup runners-up.
‘It wasn’t great to concede twice late on in normal time but we were the better team in extra-time and we deserved to go through.