It was a full day of penalty-kick drama at the World Cup, with Croatia advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals by outlasting Denmark in a shootout just hours after Russia had done the same to beat Spain in a huge upset. Combined, the two games offered a remarkable number of saves in one-on-one, high-wire confrontations.
The Croatia-Denmark game, in Nizhny Novgorod, started with a stunning outburst, both sides scoring within the first four minutes. But the last 116 or so mostly had defensive play, plus plenty of missed shots.
Denmark went ahead in the very first minute after a huge throw-in by Jonas Knudsen sent the ball into the penalty area, where Croatia was in some disarray. Thomas Delaney got a touch and nudged it to Mathias Jorgensen, who took a shot; it bounced off a couple of Croatian players, including the goalkeeper, and went in.
Croatia’s answer three minutes later was also bizarre. Henrik Dalsgaard of Denmark attempted to clear the ball, but he spanked it right into the head of his teammate Andreas Christensen. It caromed back to the Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, who accepted the gift and scored from a couple yards out. It was 1-1.
But the furious scoring pace didn’t last, as the game petered out. Both sides, especially Denmark, focused on defense, and any chances that materialized were squandered, sometimes badly. Finally, for the second time on Sunday, a World Cup knockout game went to extra time.
With four minutes left in the added periods, Croatia had a tantalizing opportunity to win it outright. Croatia’s Luka Modric passed from the halfway line to a streaking Ante Rebic. He beat the Denmark goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, and raced toward the goal unimpeded. Jorgensen, the Danish defender rushing in from behind, had little choice but to bring down Rebic, and it was an easy penalty call for the referee.
But Modric’s penalty kick was not strong, and Schmeichel came up with a huge save, holding onto the ball to prevent a rebound.
And so the two teams went on to the second penalty shootout of the day,which turned into a display of solid goalkeeping guesswork. Each side had two of its first four shots blocked, which actually gave Schmeichel three penalty saves, counting his previous one on Modric.
Then came the fifth round of the shootout. Nicolai Jorgensen’s bid to score for Denmark was saved by Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic — his third save in the shootout. It was up to Schmeichel to yet again come through for Denmark and keep the shootout going. But Ivan Rakitic, the Barcelona star, fired the ball past him, and Croatia was through to the next round.
Croatia must be excited about a matchup with host Russia in the quarterfinal next Saturday. But on the evidence of this game, Russia may be excited about the matchup, too. And in any case, both teams can thank their goalies for stellar work in the shootouts. They kept both Russian and Croatia alive.
Here’s how Croatia advanced past Denmark:
PK: Croatia 3, Denmark 2
Croatia wins the shootout 3-2! Rakitic goes left, Schmeichel goes wrong. Croatia advances!
PK: Denmark 2, Croatia 2
SAVED! Jorgensen stutter-steps, shoots, and Subasic dives and pulls off another save! Croatia can win it here!
PK: Denmark 2, Croatia 2
SAVED Pivaric smashes it left, and Schmeichel jumps to save! Great keeping from both sides. Last kicks coming.
PK: Denmark 2, Croatia 2
SAVED Schone places it OK, but Subasic is right there!
PK: Denmark 2, Croatia 2
GOAL! Modric. He blew the earlier penalty, and Schmeichel guesses right. But the ball scoots over him.
PK: Denmark 2, Croatia 1
GOAL Krohn-Delhi. Subasic guesses wrong.
PK: Denmark 1, Croatia 1
PK: Denmark 1, Croatia 0
GOAL Kjaer gets it right with a penalty blasted right.
PK: Croatia 0, Denmark 0
SAVE Schmeichel also guesses right and saves Badelj’s effort!
PK: Denmark 0, Croatia 0
SAVE Eriksen of course takes the first kick for Denmark. Subasic guesses right, dives and saves it!
PK: Denmark Goes First
Denmark wins the toss and will kick first. That’s a big advantage historically. Subasic of Croatia and Schmeichel of Denmark the keepers.
Penalty Kicks: One of These Should Go In…
Here comes the lottery of penalties. We’ll give you all the action, kick by kick.
120’: Last Chances Before Penalty Kicks
More from Croatia in the dying minutes. Kramaric hoists one way too high.
118’: So Close…
Wow, Luka Modric had the chance to send Croatia to the quarterfinals. And he blew it. Not a good shot. Modric set up the play that won the penalty. Points to him for that. But that penalty kick. Ouch.
116’: SAVE Schmeichel!
Modric …saved by Schmeichel! It was not that well hit and Schmeichel dived on it.
114’: PENALTY to CROATIA!
A late twist! Modric passed from the halfway line to a streaking Rebic. He beat the keeper, and Denmark’s Jorgensen brought him down. Clear as day.
113’: Knudsen Still Taking Sweet Old Time
Knudsen continues to set up for and take throw-ins with the deliberation of a chess champion.
112’: Penalty Kicks Seem Likely
The managers must be thinking about their penalty kick orders at this point.
109’: Badelj in for Croatia
Croatia brings Milan Badelj in for striker Mandzukic. That’s their fourth sub as well.
Sisto jukes three players and shoots! The angle is too tight though. Wide.
106’: More Subs, Including Sisto!
Here comes substitute No. 4 for Denmark. 4? Yep, it’s a new rule when there’s extra time. And clearly someone has been reading this report, because Denmark is sending in Pione Sisto! Let’s see if he can liven things up. Braithwaite goes out.
Halftime in Extra Time
I’m not seeing a goal in the last 15, are you?
Kasper Schmeichel gives his team a vigorous pep talk. Is he urging them to score, or just to hold tight on defense?
105’: Corners to Nowhere
Modric gets a couple of corners in a row for Croatia. Nothing doing.
103’: Who Wants It More?
One of these teams will have the chance to play Russia for a World Cup semifinal berth! But someone’s got to put the ball in the net.
100’: Denmark Getting Closer
Schone of Denmark from just outside the box. It’s wide — but not as wide as most of the other shots have been! A step forward.
99’: Krohn-Dehli in for Denmark
Krohn-Dehli will come in as Denmark’s third sub, for Delaney
97’: Missed Chances for Denmark
First Eriksen tries to get it in to Jorgensen, then Braithwaite tries. They can’t get it there.
Eriksen hasn’t done much with corners, so he tosses it to Knudsen to try. His ball drops into the box and for a second things look chancy, but it’s cleared. Still all Denmark.
94: Slow Start to Extra Time
Denmark with the best of the first few minutes, but no real chances.
90’: Extra Time Kicks Off
First period, extra time kicks off.
Extra Time: Can the Next 30 Minutes Be More Like the First Four?
Ladies and gentlemen, we have extra time. Surely the 30 minutes to come will more closely resemble the madcap first five minutes of the game than the sometimes sloppy next 85. Right? Right?
93’: Back to Denmark
Eriksen takes a shot and earns a last-ditch corner. Punched away … to Braithwaite, who fires wide.
92’: Croatia Chance
Rakitic from outside the box — it’s got the speed, but as usual not the accuracy. Wide.
91’: Denmark in No Hurry
Knudsen takes a lot of time to trot to the sidelines for a throw-in, drawing some whistles from the crowd.
89’: Looking Like Extra Time
It’s hot, and the players seem tired. So what is called for here? How about 30 more minutes of football?
88’: Late Chance for Denmark
Schone gets some time over a ball for Denmark but can’t put it on target.
85’: Croatia Chance
Pretty good header by Perisic of Croatia is a little too high and a little too wide.
Kovacic is back, by the way.
84’: Croatia’s Kovacic Limps Off
Kovacic is swarmed by three Denmark defenders and goes down. He requires treatment and limps off.
81’: Missed Connections
The BBC reports that 1 out of 22 crosses in this game has reached a teammate. Yikes.
77’: Croatia Now Attacking
Modric arrives to a Croatia attack late and promptly one-times a shot from distance. Off target.
Then another long-distance shot, this time from Rebic of Croatia. Easy save for Schmeichel.
76’: That Other Jorgensen
Just to clarify: the Danish Jorgensen that checked in earlier was Nicolai Jorgensen, the striker, not Mathias Jorgensen, the defender.
75’: More Pressure From Denmark
A Denmark 3-on-4 turns into a 4-on-5, and Eriksen shoots in the end. Wide.
73’: Denmark Chance!
Poulsen is the creator down the wing, and new man Jorgensen takes the shot. Right to the keeper, but still encouraging for Denmark.
72’: Kovacic in for Croatia
Kovacic in for Brozovic, a midfield swap for Croatia.
71’: Not Many Quality Chances for Denmark
Better from Denmark lately in terms of ball control, but it hasn’t been able to get the ball in there for a serious chance.
66’: Croatia Back on the Attack
Modric on the corner for Croatia. Right across the face of goal, but a Dane head gets there first. When Croatia regroups and launches another cross, Schmeichel punches it away a mile.
63’: Denmark Chances
Denmark has had a couple of good breaks — Delaney and Braithwaite were in the middle of one just now. But Croatian defenders, and even midfielders like Modric, have been getting back swiftly.
59’: Where’s Sisto?
Denmark brought in Schone for Christensen at halftime. But I think I’d like to see Pione Sisto for Denmark, a great passer who might be able to get something going.
57’: Denmark Chance!
Poulsen beats Brozovic down the side and crosses. It hits a defender and then sits unmoving in front of goal for several tantalizing seconds. Croatia gets to it first, foiling Braithwaite of Denmark.
54’: Eriksen Looking for His Chance
An Eriksen set-up pass is way off. Aside from stepping up to free kicks and such, Eriksen has been quiet for Denmark, and Poulsen, the team’s other scorer, even more so.
49’: Denmark, So Defensive
Denmark committed 8 fouls in the first half to Croatia’s 2. That reversal of expectations was prompted mostly because Denmark sat back and defended much more than Croatia, which was the more incisive attacker.
45’: Second Half Begins
These teams both scored in the blink of an eye to start the game. Now they have 45 minutes to find one more.
A madcap start gave way to 41 more prosaic minutes, and the score is tied, 1-1. Croatia got the best of the half, statistically: 9 shots to 5 for Denmark, and 56-44 percent in possession.
45’: Another Save for Schmeichel
Rakitic has too much space and can measure his shot, but Denmark keeper Schmeichel, who is getting a workout, is in the right position for the save.
43’: Chance for Eriksen
Eriksen gets the ball with a little space but three Croatians close him down. He gets the ball a moment later and tries a little lob. It’s wide.
39’: Chance for Croatia
Modric sends in a beautiful free kick and Lovren gets a head to it for Croatia but it goes wide. Good chance.
34’: Croatia Keeping Pressure On
Schmeichel dives on a ball before Strinic can get to it.
30’: Chances for Croatia
Rakitic shoots, Schmeichel punches it away. Brozovic shoots, Schmeichel punches it away. Rebound to Perisic with the goal at his mercy. He mis-hits it, then launches one over the net.
28’: Another Chance for Denmark
A good spell of possession for Denmark leads to a sliding shot by Braithwaite and a leg save by Subasic.
23’: Denmark Chance
Eriksen of Denmark makes noise for the first time with a run followed by a mid-range shot. It’s wide.
Manduzic believes that Knudsen of Denmark pulled him down in the box. There was an arm over the shoulder, but was it a penalty? The ref says no. The ref is Mr. Pitana of Argentina.
20’: Things Slowing Down
The incident-per-minute rate of this game, after threatening to break records in the first four minutes, is slipping down to more normal levels now.
18’: Croatia Attacking
More probing attacks from Croatia. Denmark is playing a more defensive style.
13’: Corner to Croatia
A corner to Croatia follows. Modric takes, and that’s cleared too.
11’: Croatia Settling In
Both teams a bit stunned by the rapid fire goals, but Croatia is starting to take command of the ball. Here’s a free kick from just outside the box …. Headed clear.
4’: GOAL CROATIA!!! Tied 1-1
Madness in Nizhny Novgorod! Dalsgaard had a simple clearance, but he spanked it right into the head of his teammate Christensen. It caromed back to Croatia, and Mandzukic accepted the gift and scored. It’s 1-1. What next?
2’: GOAL Denmark!
What happened? A bit of head tennis at midfield led to a throw-in for Denmark. Knudsen made a huge one, landing it in the box, where Croatia was in disarray. Delaney got a touch, inched it to Jorgensen, and he shot; it bounced off a couple of Croatian players, including the keeper, and went in! Bizarre, but it counts!
Denmark in white, Croatia in black. We got a hot one in Nizhny Novgorod tonight. It’s over 80 even this deep into the Russian evening.
Croatia Rested and Ready
Croatia had already qualified for this round when it played its third group game against Iceland, so it rested more than half its starters. They’re all back today, which should be frightening even for Denmark’s tight defense.
Croatia Not as Lovable as Other Teams
Croatia does not fit the “lovable underdog” tag of teams like Iceland, in part because it plays a little dirty. Croatia has eight yellow cards, the most of any team left in the tournament. It has 55 fouls: That ranks second, but only just behind France, which has played one more game.
From Underdog to Contender
Nobody’s talking about Croatia as a plucky underdog anymore; it is now considered a serious contender to win the World Cup. Aside from Uruguay’s two early wins, no small country has ever lifted the trophy. But Croatia looks like the real deal so far, with a crack defense, organization and several attacking weapons. Right now it is the fourth favorite at 6-1 to win the Cup, after Brazil, France and England, And its odds will shorten with a win today.
Spain’s Elimination May Clear Path for Winner
The result of today’s first game makes this game all the more important. Instead of facing mighty Spain, the winner will get Russia, a team that has ridden home field advantage and more than a few lucky breaks. Surely the winner here will fancy a trip to the semifinals: It would be Denmark’s first ever and Croatia’s second, after 1998.
Two Good Defenses, One Good Offense
Denmark and Croatia both have strong defenses; they have so far surrendered only one goal each. But Croatia’s offense is much more prolific, with seven goals to two for Denmark. Croatia has taken 39 shots; Denmark has taken 25, ahead only of Panama and Iran.
Denmark’s Starting Lineup
Goalkeeper: 1 Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester)
Defenders: 4 Simon Kjaer (Sevilla); 13 Mathias Jorgensen (Huddersfield); 6 Andreas Christensen (Chelsea); 14 Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford); 5 Jonas Knudsen (Ipswich)
Midfielders: 10 Christian Eriksen (Tottenham); 8 Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen)
Forwards: 21 Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta); 11 Martin Braithwaite (Middlesbrough); 20 Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig)
With 14 saves, Schmeichel ranks second at the Cup behind Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico.
Croatia’s Starting Lineup
Goalkeeper: 23 Danijel Subasic (Monaco)
Defenders: 21 Domagoj Vida (Besiktas); 3 Ivan Strinic (Milan); 6 Dejan Lovren (Liverpool); 2 Sime Vrsaljko (Atlético Madrid)
Midfielders: 10 Luka Modric (Real Madrid); 7 Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona); 11 Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan)
Forwards: 17 Mario Mandzukic; (Juventus); 4 Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan); 18 Ante Rebic (Fiorentina)
Croatia Will Lean on Modric
Croatia’s top scorer with two goals is its 5-foot-6-inch star, Luka Modric. At 32, he is at the peak of a career that has taken him to stardom at Spurs and Real Madrid. He is also Croatia’s top passer, and the team rises and falls on his performance.
Denmark vs. Croatia Top Story Lines
• Croatia has advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup for the second time in its history. The last time was in 1998, when Davor Suker and company beat Germany on the way to the semifinals. This is Denmark’s first visit to the last 16 since 2002.
• Croatia has impressed with a 3-0 start to the Cup in a tricky group, beating Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland.
• With eight yellow cards, Croatia has the most of any team remaining in the tournament. It has committed 55 fouls, second of the remaining teams, three behind France, which has played one more game.
• One of Denmark’s goal scorers is its leader, Christian Eriksen. Modric told reporters, “What I can say about Eriksen is, he’s a fantastic player, a world-class player. He’s the most important player for Denmark.” The other scorer, Yussuf Poulsen, returns for this game from a yellow card suspension.
• These teams have not met in a competitive match since the qualifying for the 1998 World Cup. Denmark won that game, with Peter Schmeichel, father of current keeper Kasper Schmeichel, in goal.
• Croatia is a comfortable favorite to win, with Denmark 4-1 or so.