Morata's wife and children were threatened by supporters in Seville and he complained of facing death threats before Monday's game, but he kept the confidence of coach Luis Enrique
Spain's Alvaro Morata has suffered abuse from some fans and heavy scrutiny from the media - but he proved his match-winning pedigree with one swing of his left boot, punching his country's ticket to the European Championship quarter-finals.
The striker, arguably the most polarising figure in the squad, had predicted his fate in the lead up to the tournament.
"The ball going in or not can take you from the front page to eating all the shit in Spain," he told the sports daily AS.
As it turned out, he was not wrong.
While Spain set the record for most completed passes and recorded 17 attempts in their 0-0 opener with Sweden, Morata was singled out by large sections of booing fans in Seville.
Although he scored in the next game against Poland, he was still criticised for missing big opportunities in the 1-1 draw. The 28-year-old's campaign hit a new low when he had a penalty saved in an otherwise convincing 5-0 win over Slovakia.
Morata's wife and children were threatened by supporters in Seville and he complained of facing death threats before Monday's game, but he kept the confidence of coach Luis Enrique.
🎙Luis Enrique: "I don't think there is a single Coach who doesn't admire and value a player like Alvaro Morata 🇪🇸, he dominates the passing game, he has a goal and physical power. We must value the fact of having such a forward in the team." #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/9dgZYurV0w— RouteOneFootball (@Route1futbol) June 28, 2021
With Croatia staging a late comeback to make it 3-3 in regulation time on Monday, it was Morata's opportunity to repay the faith of his manager in extra time.
The former Real Madrid marksman controlled a Dani Olmo cross with his right foot before smashing the ball with his left into the roof of the net to put Spain 4-3 ahead in the 100th minute.
"I don't think there's a national team coach anywhere in the world who wouldn't value Morata and what he does for the team," Luis Enrique told reporters.
"He's dominant aerially, he's strong and he gets us goals. We really need to appreciate having a striker like him."
Mikel Oyarzabal soon added a fifth as Spain celebrated a first knockout stage win at a major tournament since winning Euro 2012.
Spain also became the first side in the tournament history to score five or more goals in consecutive matches - and Enrique can thank the wealth of options he has up front.
Goals: ⚽— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) June 28, 2021
Now that's one way to silence your critics! A wonderful performance from Alvaro Morata 😎👏
Both Oyarzabal and Olmo came off the bench to add width and fresh legs to the attack, stretching an already tired Croatian defence in the closing stages.
Those cameos enhanced Spain's credentials to go deep in the tournament as they came back from an own goal to regain composure after Croatia had forced extra time.
"The end of the match was so beautiful," Enrique said. "I'm glad that the game gave us a second chance to win it."