Croatia 1, Denmark 1 (Croatia wins, 3-2, on penalty kicks)
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
The game, and Croatia’s future in the World Cup, came down to midfielder Ivan Rakitic as he lined up for a penalty kick. Rakitic had said a few days earlier he had heard enough about the 1998 team, the one that made the semifinals for his country’s best finish ever. “We need to forget about that and write our own story at this tournament,” he said. Sunday, he had the chance to give his compatriots something a little more current to cheer about.
Rakitic’s right-footer rolled past stonewall Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, sending his teammates sprinting toward him, the streets of Zagreb into pandemonium and his team through to the next round. Awaiting on July 7, a quarterfinals date with the Russian hosts in Sochi.
Denmark had struck first, within the first minute, to push the red-hot Croatians back on their heels. Danish star Zanka emerged from a scrum created by a long throw-in to the box and sent a left-footer past Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic. But the Croatians were not to be undone as Croatian star Mario Mandzukic responded by depositing a ball that bounced off a Danish defender’s face into the back of the net.
In between, there was nearly two hours of soccer consisting of chances but no finishes and, with the way the goalkeepers were playing, it seemed like they might be in the stadium searching for a resolution all night. Then Rakitic stepped to the line and gave his countrymen a new story to tell.
Here’s how the penalty kicks went:
0-0: Both teams sent their best, but both Denmark’s Christian Eriksen and Croatia’s Milan Badelj were stonewalled.
1-1: Denmark’s Simon Kjaer and Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric both scored on the left side.
2-2: Michael Krohn-Dehli sets the pace for Denmark and Croatia’s Luka Modric redeems himself for missing an earlier penalty by beating Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
2-2: Denmark’s Lasse Schöne was stopped going left, and so was Josip Pivaric in a similar fashion.
2-3: Denmark’s Nicolai Jørgensen shot it into the goalkeeper’s feet as he dove left, and Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic shot his penalty just left enough to not do the same. Croatia advances to play Russia in the quarterfinals.
We will head to the second penalty-kick tiebreaker of the day after a save by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel kept the Danes alive. In the 114th minute, Croatia’s Ante Rebic got alone behind the Danish defense on a through ball and dribbled past Schmeichel before Zanka slide-tackled in from behind and took Rebic’s feet out from under him. Rebic fell and the ball never crossed the plane of the open goal. There was controversy around whether Zanka should be given a red card and Croatia allowed to shoot on an open goal, but ultimately Zanka was shown a yellow and Schmeichel stayed in net.
Croatia sent star midfielder Luka Modric to take the penalty; he had buried his only other World Cup opportunity against Nigeria. As he stepped into a left-footed shot, Schmeichel dove left early and smothered the low shot with his body to prevent a rebound. Defeat had seemed certain seconds earlier, but Schmeichel breathed life back into the Danes.
Full time: Croatia 1, Denmark 1
The frantic first four minutes gave way to a bitter stalemate for the last 86 of regulation. The Croatians and Danes are headed to extra time after neither could break though for a winner, despite totaling 27 shots (seven on net) between them. It’s the second game of the day headed to extra time after Russia defeated Spain on penalty kicks earlier Sunday.
Halftime: Croatia 1, Denmark 1
After the Danes struck within the first minute and the Croatians answered less than three minutes later, the frenetic pace of the match eased. There were still dangerous attacks — the teams totaled three more shots on net — but the defenses limited any significant chances. Denmark showed it can slow an explosive Croatian offense, but must remain alert. The Croatians scored six of their seven goals in group play in the second half and will look to continue their dominance in the frame.
Less than three minutes after Zanka’s stunning opening goal, Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic snatched up a strange bounce in the middle of the box of a Denmark defender and deposited it into the left side for his first goal of the World Cup. The goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, couldn’t even move as he watched it sail past to tie this game up in a wild first few minutes.
In the first minute of the match, Denmark made its bid for one of the wildest goals so far in this preposterous, surprising, unpredictable World Cup. The Danes had a long throw-in at the top of the box and Mathias Jørgensen, better known as Zanka, emerged from a scrum with it. He drove down the left side and got off a left-footed shot that hit the left hand of the diving Croatian keeper, Danijel Subasic, and sputtered into the net.
On Sunday in Nizhny Novgorod, Croatia enters as probably the World Cup’s hottest team — one of three squads to win all their games and the darling of the tournament so far. This is the furthest Croatia has advanced since 1998, when it made a miraculous run to the semifinals.
“We know the team from 1998 was great, they were all our idols and they showed the way for each Croatian team afterwards,” said Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic. “But we need to forget about that and write our own story at this tournament. God willing we can achieve the same result, or maybe even more.”
Tasked with stopping the juggernaut is Denmark, which enters without a loss as well. However, the Danes fired nine shots on goal in group play, the second-lowest total overall. In the team’s last match, Danish Coach Åge Hareide and his squad received lots of criticism for their slow, 0-0 draw with France.
“We know that we don’t seem like the most fearsome bunch to go up against,” said Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney. “We’re not going to lose 5-0 by trying to play tiki-taka football. But people shouldn’t get used to seeing us play like we did against France.
“It’s seldom that we play like this, and the game against Croatia will be a very different spectacle.”
Denmark’s aggressive play may result in a goal, but even if it does and the Danes seize a lead, they cannot be lulled into a false sense of security. The Vatreni has scored six of its seven goals in the World Cup in the second stanza. Just think, its game against Argentina was scoreless at half before the 3-0 drubbing commenced.
“There is always tension,” Hareide said. “Most of our players have not played the World Cup before. But this game will be different.
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. Eastern.
How to watch on TV: Fox.
How to stream online: Fox Sports and the Fox Soccer Match Pass apps and FoxSportsGo.com.
How to watch in Spanish: Telemundo.
How to watch in Canada: Bell Media’s TSN and CTV networks, the TSN GO app and TSN.ca/live.
The winner will face the Spain-Russia winner on July 7 at 2 p.m. in Fisht Stadium in Sochi.
Croatia (3-0-0, Group D, first place)
- Previous results: Defeated Nigeria, 2-0. Defeated Argentina, 3-0. Defeated Iceland, 2-1.
- Best World Cup finish: Semifinals, 1998.
- Notable: Croatia’s current three-game winning streak is the nation’s longest ever in international play.
- FIFA world ranking: 20. ELO world ranking: 7.
Denmark (1-0-2, Group C, second place)
- Previous results: Defeated Peru, 1-0. Drew Australia, 1-1. Drew France, 0-0.
- Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals, 1998.
- Notable: The Danes enter this matchup on a 16-game unbeaten streak. Something has to budge Sunday.
- FIFA world ranking: 12. ELO world ranking: 15.
Players to watch
There are eight Croatians one yellow card away from a one-match suspension, so controlling their outrage will be crucial for the side, especially because stars including Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic and Mario Mandzukic are all at risk. The player to watch particularly though is Rakitic, who has been Croatia’s go-to player when opponents hone in on world-class midfielder Luka Modric.
The class of the Danes is Christian Eriksen. The midfielder and Tottenham star can score and distribute, evidenced by his goal and assist in group play. He might get matched up on Modric in this game, which would feature two of the world’s best squaring off, and even Hareide seemed excited for the possibility. Of Eriksen’s play so far in this World Cup, he said, “He has the capacity to do more.”