Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was the hero as Croatia squeezed into the World Cup quarter-finals with a penalty shoot-out victory over Denmark here Sunday.
On a night of late, late drama Ivan Rakitic stroked home the decisive spotkick to ensure the Croats advanced to a last eight meeting with Russia after the two sides finished locked at 1-1 following extra-time.
The Barcelona midfielder’s winner came after Milan Badelj and Josip Pivaric saw their penalties saved by Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who also saved an extra time penalty from Luka Modric.
But Danes Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schone and Nicolai Jorgensen were thwarted by Subasic in the shootout to ensure Croatia won 3-2 and advanced to their first quarter-finals since the 1998 World Cup in France.
The dramatic ending followed early excitement — but little in between.
In an astonishing start to the match, both teams scored within four minutes via their first attacks.
First, Mathias Jorgensen turned home in the second minute after Croatia failed to clear a long throw-in from Jonas Knudsen, the defender’s shot creeping under Subasic to give Denmark the perfect start.
But any hopes they could hold onto their lead vanished within 90 seconds.
With the Nizhny Novgorod stadium still rocking from the frantic start, Croatia went upfield and promptly equalised.
Again, the goal owed more than a little to bad defending when a Sime Vrsaljko cross was hammered by Henrik Dalsgaard into fellow Dane Andreas Christensen and the ball fell obligingly in the penalty area to Mario Mandzukic who scored.
The explosive start — both sides hit the back of the net within three minutes and thirty seven seconds — was officially the quickest two teams have ever scored in a World Cup finals match.
The following 116 minutes though largely failed to live up to the first four, fireworks giving way to a damp squib of an encounter as the game edged inexorably towards extra time and penalties.
Billed as a clash between the opposing number 10s, Modric and Eriksen, it instead became increasingly attritional and tactical, with both playmakers unable to find any space.
Instead the player who created most chances was Knudsen with his long throws.
Few clear chances were created by either side until Modric’s late penalty miss.
That came after Ante Rebic was fouled in the 116th minute Mathias Jorgensen, with the goal at his mercy.
Modric stepped up but side-footed weakly and Schmeichel made the first of his three penalty saves on the night, all in vain, as his legendary goalkeeping father Peter punched the air in delight as he watched on in the stands.
The last penalty was taken by Rakitic. Croatia win 3-2.
116′ – Penalty saved! Luka Modric missed!
4′ – Goal! Croatia 1, Denmark 1. Mario Mandzukic
1′ – Goal! Croatia 0, Denmark 1. Zanka (Denmark)
— FIFA World Cup 🏆 (@FIFAWorldCup) July 1, 2018
Croatia has confirmed their dark horse credentials with three group stage wins over Nigeria, Argentina & Iceland. The European side will certainly fancy themselves to break down Sunday evening opponents Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod. You can watch the round of 16 encounters between Croatia & Denmark via beIN SPORTS CONNECT.
The Vatreni’s brand of energetic free-flowing football, led by metronomic midfield pairing of Ivan Rakotic & Luca Modric has won plenty of plaudits. Now, Zlatko Dalić’s charges now must focus on their first knockout game since their maiden appearance in 98, they finished third that year.
Luca Modric has continued to impress for Croatia, and the national team captain is no stranger to the big occasion winning four Champions League crowns with Real Madrid. The stage is now set for the 32-year old to deliver World Cup glory for the Croatians. His passing ability and forward runs will be crucial if his country is to reach the quarter-final for only the second time in their history.
Croatia Predicted Team
Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Badelj; Rebic, Modric, Perisic; Mandzukic
How to watch Online- beIN SPORTS CONNECT
TV Channel- MAX HD3
Stadium- Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
Denmark will be hoping to get the better of Croatia on Sunday. The Danes have only scored twice in the tournament, the lowest of any side in the round of sixteen. Whilst they have still remained undefeated in the tournament following a slender victory over Peru and draws with Australia & France sealed their passage to the knock out stages.
Åge Hareide is likely to keep it tight for the game against Croatia, aiming to pack the midfield and stifle the creativity of Modric. In team news, Yussuf Poulsen is likely to return to the side after serving his suspension against France.
Pione Sisto could be a key player for Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod. The Uganda born winger has plenty of pace and could be a useful asset for the side, who will be looking contain Croatia and push away on the breakaway.
Denmark Predicted Team
Schmeichel; Larsen, Christensen, Kjaer, Dalsgaard; Schone, Delaney; Sisto, Eriksen, Poulsen; Jorgensen
It promises to be a fascinating encounter as Croatia take on Denmark for a place in the quarterfinals. Watch the Live & Exclusive stream of the game on MAX HD3 & beIN SPORTS CONNECT.
This content was originally published here.