Sunday, July 1, 2018 11:50 pm
Croatia had the last laugh at the shooting range on Sunday at Nizhny Novgorod as they came back after losing a penalty kick in extra time to advance to the quarter-finals.
The 1998 third-place winners had even come back to win after conceding in the opening minute of their 2018 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match.
They edged Denmark 3-2 in the penalty kick shootout after the two sides had drawn 1-1 after 120 minutes of play.
Croatia could have wrapped up the result five minutes from the end of extra time but team captain Luka Modric had his penalty kick saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
However, Modric returned to bravely take one of the post-match kicks as goalkeeper Danijel Subasic saved three of Denmark’s efforts to set up a quarter-final meeting with Russia on Saturday.
It was Modric’s sublime pass that put Ante Rebic through on goal, before being brought down by Mathias Jorgensen.
The kick offered Croatia a chance to win just before the lottery of the shootout, but Schmeichel made a smart save to keep the 1-1 stalemate intact.
Two chaotic goals in the opening four minutes made for a rollicking start to the two-hour game which was at times pedestrian football.
However, it proved a false dawn as the spectacle faded with both sides choosing caution as their priority given the rare chance to reach the last eight at a World Cup.
Jorgensen took all of 57 seconds to breach the Croatia defence at the end of a long throw-in by Jonas Knudsen.
He stabbed at the ball with his left foot as he took it off team mate Thomas Delaney.
Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic got a hand to Jorgensen’s toe-poke but effectively deflected the ball across his own line.
There was an element of comedy to the fourth-minute equaliser for Mario Mandzukic as Denmark’s early advantage quickly disappeared.
A kick across the Danish defence was firmly hit away by Henrik Dalsgaard but straight into the face of team mate Andreas Christensen, creating a pinball effect.
It saw the ball fall for Mandzukic, who then expertly turned it into the net from close range.
The anticipated influence of Christian Eriksen for the Danes and Croatia’s Modric held out hopes of more mouth-watering action but their craft was only evident in patches.
Eriksen did shave the top of the woodwork just before halftime with a speculative effort while, at the other end, Ivan Rakitic forced a smart save from Schmeichel.
After the interval, the chances were even more sparse although Croatia did up the tempo towards the end of regulation time only to run into a resolute Denmark defence.
In extra time, Knudsen’s long throws proved the most dangerous attacking weapon but eventually it was penalty kicks that delivered a winner.