BORDEAUX • Croatia's coach Ante Cacic said his heroic players are an example the country's unruly fans should follow, after they shocked Spain 2-1 to top Group D.
Flares thrown by Croatian fans during their 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic last Friday saw the country's football federation fined €100,000 (S$151,000).
However, the fans were on their best behaviour to celebrate a glorious night as they ended the two-time defending champions' 15-game unbeaten record in the European Championship tournaments.
"We achieved first place and I can be really satisfied that, in all three matches, we were really aggressive, we played to win," said Cacic.
"These players are showing how you have to represent and play for your country and how you have to behave."
Croatia are in the easier part of the draw as they prepare to meet a third-placed team in the last 16 in Lens on Saturday.
"Winning against Spain is a huge achievement, now we can be really confident. We can show how strong we are," said Cacic.
Croatia's victory was even more remarkable as Cacic made five changes to his starting line-up, with star midfielder Luka Modric and influential striker Mario Mandzukic rested.
Ivan Perisic, who scored a sensational late winner, joked that it was Italy who were lucky with the draw as they avoided Croatia.
"You have to be happy that you are not playing against Croatia," he said when asked why he wanted to avoid Italy, where he plays his club football with Inter Milan.
However, Perisic warned his team-mates not to get carried away, if they are to do better than when they reached the World Cup semi-finals in France in 1998.
"This was a really special evening for us," he said. "We made a really great job in the group stages, but this is just the beginning. If we lose the next match this doesn't mean anything. We have to stay at the same level and fight as we did in the first three matches if we want to recreate memories of 1998."
Bookmakers have already reduced the odds for Croatia to win the tournament from 16-1 to 8-1.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS