After the shock exit of Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Spain from the World Cup in the first two days after Round of 16 began, fans were fearing it may be Croatia’s turn to leave when they faced Denmark late on Sunday.
Their fears gained ground in the first minute of play. Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic (pictured) got a hand to a Mathias Jorgensen shot in the 57th second but could not stop the ball from going in.
Croatia found the equaliser in the fourth minute when a Henrik Dalsgaard clearance hit his teammate Andreas Christensen in the face and Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic drove home the ball that came into his path.
What followed in the next almost two hours was a repeat of the play an hour earlier between Russia and Spain — too much of caution, limited forays, and a totally defensive approach that took the game into extra time.
Croatia could have taken the winning lead in the 115th minute but Luka Modric’s feeble free-kick went straight to goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Modric earned the penalty for Croatia by sending a pinpointed pass to Ante Rebic who had a golden chance with only the goalkeeper in front. Before Rebic could place the shot, he was brought down from behind by Mathias Jorgensen. After Modric wasted the chance, the game went into the penalty shootout.
Both Denmark’s Eriksen and Croatia’s Milan Badelj failed to convert but Modric made no mistake this time. Denmark’s Lasse Schone and Croatia’s Josip Pivaric too missed the free kick.
Subasic denied Nicolai Jorgensen by using one foot to deflect his low shot. Croatia was on the brink of victory now. Ivan Rakitic took Croatia into the quarter-finals by sending Schmeichel the wrong way and coolly driving the ball into the net.
Croatia will meet Russia in the quarter-finals on Saturday.