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After both sides netted early goals, Croatia and Denmark’s Round of 16 clash was deadlocked at 1-1 for over 120 minutes before Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive kick in a dramatic penalty shootout that saw Croatia into the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Over two hours earlier, the match had gotten off to a spectacular start. The Danes grabbed the lead just one minute in, through Mathias Jorgensen, who pounced on a loose ball off a long throw-in and slotted it past keeper Danijel Subasic.
But Denmark’s lead was short-lived. Barely three minutes later, Croatia equalized as Mario Mandzukic capitalized on a poor clearance and let loose a right-footed shot from inside the box that bounced past Kasper Schmeichel to make it 1-1 in the fourth minute.
Unfortunately, what happened for the next 86 minutes plus stoppage time was rather less spectacular. There was little to set one team apart from the other in a tightly wound encounter that had its moments of drama, like this one from Denmark striker Yussuf Poulsen . . .
But the match seemed to lack in genuine scoring opportunities for either team.
While Croatia is considered the more talented side, Denmark’s industry and hustle kept the dark horse contenders mostly in check. As the match wore on, it was the Danes who began to look the more dominant side.
After 90 minutes, referee Nestor Pitana put the whistle to his lips as the match headed for extra time.
Stoppage time and penalties
Both managers shuffled the deck in stoppage time as they searched for the key to breaking the deadlock. Denmark boss Age Hareide brought Michael Krohn-Dehli on for Thomas Delaney and Pione Sisto on for Martin Braithwaite. Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic introduced Milan Badelj for Mandzukic.
Finally, with 115 minutes on the clock, it looked as if the chance to break the deadlock had at last arrived.
Croatian attacker Ante Rebic broke into Denmark’s box and drew a foul from Jorgensen, earning the penalty that would surely see Croatia into the quarterfinals.
Luka Modric stepped up to the spot for Croatia. Modric, arguably the most talented player left in this World Cup, simply needed to put the ball past Schmeichel to send Croatia to the quarters. Only he didn’t.
Modric thumped a low drive toward the right corner of the Danish goal, but Schmeichel guessed right. The Leicester City keeper pounced on the ball, like a heroic soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his platoon.
With the Danes having survived the late scare, the match went to penalties.
Christian Eriksen was first up for the Danes. But the Tottenham playmaker had his shot saved by a diving Subasic. Badelj was next up for Croatia, but again the save was made as Schmeichel kept it out.
Denmark’s Simon Kjaer was the first to convert, lashing his kick beyond Subasic. Andre Kramaric then converted for Croatia, before Krohn-Dehli drilled another one in for Denmark.
Next up for Croatia was Modric, and this time the Real Madrid man did beat Schmeichel.
Lasse Schone’s penalty was kept out by Subasic. But Schmeichel kept Danish hopes alive, saving Josip Pivaric’s effort before Subasic saved Nicolai Jorgensen’s kick. In the end, it was all left to Rakitic.
The Barcelona midfielder coolly stepped up to the mark and blasted a shot low and to the left. As Schmeichel dove the wrong way, the ball hit net, sending Croatia through and breaking Danish hearts.
Is Croatia a contender?
Croatia flew under the radar heading into this World Cup. But after clinically picking apart Argentina and storming undefeated through the group stage, it’s emerged as a fashionable dark horse pick to reach and perhaps win the final in two weeks time. Denmark gave Modric, Rakitic, and Co. their toughest test of this World Cup so far. And they passed it, although only just.
Still, with a quarterfinal meeting against a low-ranked Russia awaiting, Croatia’s path to the final could be fairly straightforward. In a World Cup where underdogs have excelled, and we’ve already seen many of the top teams already crash out, the field would appear to be wide open for a team like Croatia to potentially go the distance.
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