Croatia beat Denmark 1-1 [3 – 2 Penalties] as the match ended in a penalty shootout.

In a tournament packed with excitement and enthusiasm, this match was no less. When players like Mathias Jorgensen and Mario Mandzukic scored at either end within the first four minutes, everyone knew it was going to be a good game.

There came an air of expectation with Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ team,  which includes Modric, Rakitic, and Ivan Perisic, who was expected to rise to the occasion but there was very little spark or flair in  Zlatko Dalic‘s team after the first goal.

However, Croatia reserved their place in the last eight alongside Russia, who they will compete in Sochi on Saturday, and they will need to find a more profound method of attack if they are to break down Stanislav Cherchesov’s resilient defence.

Denmark head coach Age Hareide may have felt sad after his players showed more desire to win the game in normal time, but when it led to the penalties Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive penalty after Luka Modric had a spot-kick saved late in extra time.

After saving from Modric, Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel produced two saves in the penalty shoot-out but saw opposite number Danijel Subasic keep out three, including from Nicolai Jorgensen to set up Rakitic to seal the 3-2 win.

Croatia lucky to get the win

Croatia were magnificent the last time they played in Nizhny Novgorod, humbling Argentina 3-0 but they were just a mere shadow of that side on Sunday. They seemed to lack energy and ambition and their ability to pass and tackle a well-drilled opposition was limited.

Modric had informed before Sunday night’s encounter that the Danes would provide a “stern test” and his words confirmed prophetic. The Real Madrid man had come into this match with a history of several excellent displays but he and fellow influential midfielder Rakitic were really below par on the pitch.

Modric’s evening was possibly summed up when he missed the chance to snatch a late victory from the penalty point. In one of the few bright spots of his evening, he had played a beautiful through ball to Ante Rebic, who seemed determined to score after adroitly rounding Schmeichel before he was brought down by goalscorer Jorgensen with the empty net gaping. But Modric struck his kick at a good height for a keeper and Schmeichel, diving to this left, managed to retain the ball.

Croatia had been dumped out of Euro 2016 by Portugal in the last 16 after granting late in extra-time and, as Denmark went into the shootout with their flags up, it did look as though they might experience late heartbreak again.

But they persevered – debatably, fortuitously – and remain alive in what is seen as the favourable half of the draw, with none of the teams left in Fifa’s top 10 rankings.

Back in Euro 2016, Croatia fumbled out on winnable ties against Poland and Wales – and they do not want to do pass up an opportunity to go far again.

Denmark almost replicated the class of 98

The Danes had only once previously reached the last eight of the World Cup – losing to Brazil at France 98 – but Age Hareide’s side can count themselves unlucky to have fallen against Croatia.

They sparked the match into life with their first-minute goal, which saw Huddersfield’s Jorgensen shoot between the legs of two Croat defenders and beat Subasic with what was a rather saveable shot. It came after a long throw from Ipswich’s Jonas Knudsen and was very much made in the English Championship. And they can barely be accused of playing to their strengths of defensive organisation and looking to capitalise on long throws and the rare opportunities that came their way.

Christian Eriksen – who never lacked purpose and effort but was a mostly peripheral figure – clipped the top of the goal in the first half and Denmark were unquestionably the more aggressive side in an appalling second half.

Denmark made a tremendous contribution to the poorest game of the competition so far when they and France played out a jointly convenient, dull goalless draw in their final group match. But they cannot be blamed for spoiling this tie in Nizhny Novgorod, although in truth they reasonably exit the World Cup at a stage that is equivalent with their ability.


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