Croatia completed their clean round in World Cup Group D in Rostov yesterday, as they beat Iceland 2-1 to secure their first place in the so-called “Group of Death.” With the qualification already in his pocket after two games, Coach Zlatko Dalic operated a massive turnover, which still didn’t prevent the Vatreni from honoring their last match, thus putting an end to Iceland’ hopes for a miracle. Goals by Milan Badelj and Ivan Perisic frustrated Gylfi Sigurdsson’s temporary equaliser.
The Croatians will now face Denmark in their first knockout game next Sunday at 8.00 PM. The Icelandic, on the other hand, caressed the dream of achieving a shocking qualification for a few minutes: With Argentina leading over Nigeria, and the score in Rostov set to 1-1, all it would have taken is a single goal for the Nordics to make history. Maybe next time.
Coach Dalic maintained cornerstones Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic in his starting lineup, giving space to those other players who had seen the World Cup from the bench so far, and changing his entire defensive line. He put a Kalinic on the pitch, but this was the second goalkeeper Lovre – a giant of 201 cms.
The most famous Nikola was kicked out from the squad, after refusing to get in during the last minutes of the opening match with Nigeria. He claimed he was not feeling well, like children do when they don’t want to go to school. Dalic showed him that he is not afraid of taking strong stands. It’s also in these things that you see how solid a squad is, when they can allow themselves the luxury of sending home one of their best – albeit whimsical – strikers.
Marko Pjaca chose to use his starting lineup chance to deliver a vicious elbow that smashed Birkir Bjarnason’s nose. The Schalke 04 striker was spared by referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who limited himself to book him. The Icelandic came back on the pitch with two tissues in his nostrils, as soon as he stopped bleeding: In a World Cup of penalty fakers and whimpering players, a true warrior finally.
Bjarnason was indeed among the Nordics who went closer to score in a first half poor with emotions: His double shot was parried back twice, first by the Croatian defense, and then by goalkeeper Kalinic. Kalinic repeated himself one minute later, flying to his right to deflect a long-range attempt by Aaron Gunnarsson. Minutes earlier, Alfred Finnbogason – Argentina’s nightmare – had missed the target only by a few inches, in what was indeed the clearest chance in the first 45 minutes.
Croatia limited themselves to defend and control the game, ready to strike when the right moment came: Milan Badelj pounced on a clearance by the Icelandic defense in the 53rd minute, and put the Vatreni ahead. But just one minute later, Kalinic had to do some work again, raising above the crossbar a short distance header by Sverrir Ingason.
Bjarnason failed another favorable chance in the 74th minute, missing to convert a perfect pass from the right flank, before a naïve handball by Dejan Lovren sent Gylfi Sigurdsson on the penalty kick spot. Iceland’s number 10 had failed a few days ago against Nigeria. But last night, his execution was perfect.
Ivan Perisic, and then Ivan Rakitic – who replaced Mateo Kovacic a few minutes before full time – scared Iceland from the free kick spot in two separate occasions. The Nordics kept attacking, especially when news of Argentina leading 2-1 over Nigeria started to spread, but a defensive mistake fatally put Croatia in the condition of stinging again.
Inter’s winger Perisic showed no mercy – why should he have? – and put the ball past Hannes Halldorsson with a sharp left foot shot, for Croatia’s final 2-1. Curtains down on Iceland’s fairy tale at World Cup 2018. For the Croatians, on the other hand, the party might have just started.
June 26, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool D
SCORERS: 53′ Badelj (C), 75′ Sigurdsson (I, pen.), 91′ Perisic (C)
|ICELAND (4-4-2): Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Ingason, R. Sigurdsson (70′ Sigurdarson), Magnusson; J. Gudmundsson, Gunnarsson, Hallfredsson, Bjarnason (90′ Traustason); Finnbogason (85′ A. Gudmundsson) (Schram, Runarsson, Arnason, Bodvarsson, Eyjolfsson, Fridjonsson, Gislason, A. Skulason, O. Skulason) Coach: Hallgrimsson
|CROATIA (4-2-3-1): L. Kalinic; Jedvaj, Corluka, Caleta-Car, Pivaric; Modric (65′ s.t. Bradaric), Badelj; Pjaca (70′ Lovren), Kovacic (81′ Rakitic), Perisic; Kramaric (Subasic, Livakovic, Brozovic, Mandzukic, Rebic, Strinic, Vida, Vrsaljko) Coach: Dalic|
REFEREE: Lahoz (Spain)
NOTES: Attendance: 43472; Yellow Card: Hallfredsson, Finnbogason, Saevarsson (I), Pjaca, Jedvaj (C)