Another penalty shootout lottery, another goalkeeping drama in the 4th game of the Round of 16 between Croatia and Denmark. Danijel Subasic saved three penalties, Kasper Schmeichel did the same – but one of them was kicked during extra time, and thus the shootout roulette promoted the Croatians after an infinite struggle. The game in Nizhny Novgorod was supposed to be an easy one for Luka Modric and his side, but Denmark fought tooth and nail, and went that close to score another upset in a World Cup full of surprises.
Extra time had closed on a 1-1 score, in a match whose emotions were concentrated in a very heated start, with Denmark scoring in the first minute with Mathias Jorgensen, and Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic making it even just two minutes later. The Danes confirmed to be a fiddly team to mess up with, featuring a monumental goalkeeper like Kasper Schmeichel (whose dad, the legendary Peter, was on the stands to cheer for him…), and a bizarre offensive strategy mostly based on defender Jonas Knudsen’s powerful throw-ins (!).
Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia risked much in a game which pundits considered a stroll in the tundra for the so-far-impressive Vatreni. The boys with the checkered jerseys feature an abundance of talents that few teams can allow themselves the luxury of lining up. But as it often happens with Croatia, a team can be less than the sum of their individuals, and if anybody were expecting to see some fireworks last night after the dazzling start, they were left disappointed.
However, Denmark represented a challenging stress-test for the ambitious Croatians, which will now face the host country Russia next Saturday in Sochi with the awareness that they can suffer and struggle. And, in a tournament like the World Cup, what it ultimately matter is making it alive. No matter how.
The hero of the day for the Balkans was Monaco’s goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, a surprising outcome if you consider how the Croatian number 1 had started his night, i.e. deflecting into his own net a close range shot by Mathias Jorgensen. A bunch of seconds after kick off, Jonas Knudsen produced the first of his deadly throw-ins, catapulting the ball into Croatia’s box. Jorgensen was the fastest to catch it, and delivered a shot that found Subasic’s clumsy deflection: 0-1 for Denmark, less than two minutes after the start.
But Mario Mandzukic was fast to put things back in order, taking advantage of a mishap in the Danish box, with a clearance from the defense hitting Andreas Christensen, and rebounding right were Juventus’ Marione was, ready to beat Schmeichel from no distance.
The fire died out quickly after the spectacular one-two from the initial stages, and teams locked in a nervous stare-off that produced little additional dangers for the two goalkeepers. The match momentum scaled down, not at the sleep-inducing level seen earlier in the afternoon with Russia-Spain, but still with the impression that especially the Danish side was aiming at betting all their tokens on the shootout lottery.
Martin Braithwaite tested Subasic in the 26th minute, while Schmeichel was challenged by Ivan Rakitic’s long-range shot two minutes later. A great progression by Milan’s new left back Ivan Strinic was closed by coach Age Hareide’s defense just in time, before a header by Dejan Lovren could miss the target by inches, wrapping up the first half.
The last 45 minutes offered even less, with Croatia pushing mostly with a possessed Ante Rebic, and Denmark hoping that something would eventually come out of any of Knudsen’s ballistic throw-ins. Teams waited extra time for the possibility to make an additional substitution, with Hareide resorting to Uganda-born striker Pione Sisto’s fastness, and Dalic sending in midfielder Milan Badelj as a potential penalty shooter (a bad idea, as Badelj would eventually miss his shot).
But then the unexpected variable – the only possibility of unlocking such a tense match – took the form of a fantastic progression by Rebic, perfectly served by Luka Modric in the 113th minute. Mathias Jorgensen was forced to knock him down in the area, when the only thing left for Rebic to do was literally pushing the ball into Denmark’s unguarded goal. Jorgensen scored a yellow card, but managed to prolong his side’s hopes, as Schmeichel hypnotized Modric from the penalty spot to left the score unchanged.
The outcome of the match was to be determined via penalty shootout, destiny was calling for that. Both goalies exalted themselves, also thanks to the shooters’ imprecision. Danjiel Subasic saved three of the Danes’ shots, redeeming himself from his early mistake, Schmeichel pushed back “only” two of the Croatian attempts. Modric did score his penalty this time, just minutes after the Danish goalkeeper had stopped his first try, with a feeble shot that still smelled like tension and fear. But he pulled it out, like champions do, before Ivan Rakitic’s last penalty could send Croatia to the Quarter Finals.
Monaco’s goalkeeper Danijel Subasic exalted himself during the penalty shootouts, saving three shots from the Danes to send Croatia into the Quarter Finals
July 1, 2018 – World Cup Round of 16
CROATIA-DENMARK 1-1 after extra time; 3-2 after penalties
SCORERS: 1′ M. Jorgensen (D), 4′ Mandzukic (C)
PENALTY SEQUENCE: Eriksen (D) saved, Badelj (C) saved, Kjaer (D) goal, Kramaric (C) goal, Krohn-Dehli (D) goal, Modric (C) goal, Schone (D) saved, Pivaric (C) saved; N. Jorgensen (D) saved, Rakitic (C) goal
|CROATIA (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic 80′ Pivaric); Brozovic (71′ Kovacic), Rakitic; Rebic, Modric, Perisic (96′ Kramaric); Mandzukic (108′ Badelj) Coach: Dalic|
|DENMARK (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel; Dalsgaard, Kjaer, M. Jorgensen, Knudsen; Christensen (46′ Schone); Y. Poulsen, Delaney (98′ Krohn-Dehli), Eriksen, Braithwaite (106′ Pione Sisto); Cornelius (67′ N. Jorgensen) Coach: Hareide|
REFEREE: Pitana (Argentina)
NOTES: Yellow Card: M. Jorgensen (D)