I have to head up to record the World Cup Football Daily podcast now (give it a listen later) so I will leave you to absorb the reaction to Croatia’s victory in your own time. Perhaps, if they can again reach the heights they did against Argentina, we will be happy that they went through tonight (Danes excluded obviously). I would quite like to see more passes like the one Luka Modric slid through for Kramaric before the extra-time penalty. Just delightful. Thanks for your emails and tweets. Bye.
Here’s our first-take match report:
Our man in Nizhny Novgorod David Hytner’s report will be pasted over the top very shortly.
On the subject of Jorgensen’s foul, George Garrett, and a few others, write: “Ed Rostron saying this is bad refereeing… I agree, it should be more than a yellow, but the referee was only following the new set of rules. By all means be angry at the rulebook, but please give the referees a break. Especially this one, he’s had a good game.”
Anyway, how did you rate the performances of the two teams? Let us know here.
It wasn’t a classic – and Croatia weren’t at their best – but this last 16 tie delivered drama again. Schmeichel made one penalty save in extra-time and two in the shootout. But Subaric was just as good in goal for Croatia in the shootout and Croatia perhaps had big-game players who were capable of handling the pressure better than Denmark’s. Russia will fancy their chances against Croatia if they turn up and play as they did tonight. On the balance of play Denmark perhaps just deserved to go through but Croatia, on their day, are much more talented and Modric’s pass to Rebic perhaps deserved to win the game.
Croatia are into the World Cup quarter-finals!
Penalties! Croatia 3-2 Denmark (Rakitic scores!) The Barcelona midfielder drills it into the bottom left corner with his right foot, sending Schmeichel the wrong way. And breathe.
Penalties! Croatia 2-2 Denmark (Nicolai Jorgensen misses)
Subasic does it again! Jorgensen went down the middle and Subasic left his legs there. Rakitic has the chance to win it.
Penalties! Croatia 2-2 Denmark (Pivaric misses)
Schmeichel saves again! Down to his right and a wonderful stop. Pivaric bent it towards the corner with pace but the keeper was equal to it.
Penalties! Croatia 2-2 Denmark (Schone misses)
Subasic saves to his right. He got there with time to spare after guessing right.
Penalties! Croatia 2-2 Denmark (Modric scores)
Modric goes straight down the middle and does beat Schmeichel this time. Just! Schmeichel’s leg almost stopped it.
Penalties! Croatia 1-2 Denmark (Krohn-Dehli scores)
Hard and low to Subasic’s right. A great strike.
Penalties! Croatia 1-1 Denmark (Kramaric scores)
Cool as you like. Nonchalantly slotted to Schmeichel’s right after a stutter.
Penalties! Croatia 0-1 Denmark (Kjaer scores)
Top right! Bang! At last. A brilliant penalty.
Penalties! Croatia 0-0 Denmark (Badelj misses)
Straight at Schmeichel, who saves with his legs!
Penalties! Croatia 0-0 Denmark (Eriksen misses)
Subasic knocks it onto the post. A great save down to his right.
So, here we go. Penalties once again! Looks like Denmark will go first.
Both teams are in a huddle. Apparently, the official reasoning for Jorgensen only receiving a yellow instead of a red is that the referee deemed it to be a genuine attempt to play the ball.
“My 1-1 and going to extra time prediction from minute 14 was correct! Where do I send my address to get my free beer? Wait… there is a free beer, right?” Jeffrey Lilly pats himself on the back.
An email: “So the ref decides that bringing down a guy as he’s about to tap into an empty net is not a red card. And Modric missed the penalty, Jørgensen gets away with it. That is why you should have penalty goals in football. That’s simply unacceptable refereeing,” roars Ed Rostron.
We’re going to a penalty shootout folks!
Full-time after extra-time: Croatia 1-1 Denmark.
ET 120 min: Modric has a go from distance but it’s straight at Schmeichel.
ET 118 min: Well, at last some drama. Denmark didn’t deserve to lose before having a go at penalties given their improved performance. But Modric’s moment of brilliance and the way that Rebic was brought down just before he was about to slide the ball home will have many Croatia fans believing they should be going through without the trauma of a shootout.
ET 116 min: Modric slides the ball to Schmeichel’s left and Schmeichel is there to save with his midriff. He gave Modric the eyes and went one way and then dived the other. The ball was in the corner but Schmeichel read him and gathered it. He’s mobbed. And high in the stands his dad punches the air like a giddy child.
Penalty to Croatia!
ET 115 min: Modric splits Denmark’s defence with a wonderful pass. Rebic hares on to it and rounds Schmeichel but is brought down by Jorgensen just as he is about to slide it home. Jorgensen is only booked. Modric to take it.
ET 113 min: Knudsen winds his shoulders back and sends one airborne. It’s flicked on to Jorgensen at the far post, but he twists his body and drags his right-footed effort wide. It wasn’t an easy chance but he could have done better.
ET 112 min: Jorgensen dinks the ball inside him looking for Eriksen. Lovren steams in and slices the ball out for a Knudsen special.
ET 110 min: Denmark are popping the passes around midfield with vim and vigour. They finally give the ball away and Croatia win a free-kick after Nicolai Jorgensen shoves Kramaric to the floor. Still, Denmark look the more likely to nick this before penalties.
ET 109 min: Mandzukic, who looks completely out of gas, is replaced by Badelj.
ET 107 min: Did I mention Sisto replaced Braithwaite? Well he did and he has just been sent haring down the inside left channel by Eriksen, turning sharply before curling just wide of the far post with a dipping right-footer.
ET 106 min: Sisto releases Jorgensen on the inside-right channel. He gallops into the box but slams his cross into Pivaric.
Second half of extra-time!
ET 105 min: “I imagine that when an entire team seems to no longer function as they can it must be a problem with shape or formation (or passing sideways slowly). Would that be a fair excuse for Croatia?” asks Ian Copestake. Yes, but Denmark’s change of shape from three at the back to a back four has helped level the midfield battle.
Half-time of extra-time!
Peep! Modric was more lively at the end of that half. But this looks like we’re heading for penalties.
ET 105 min: Modric wallops the corner at the near post, where Denmark clear. It’s not happening.
Et 104 min: That’s more like it. Modric lifts a beautiful pass over Denmark’s defence for Kramaric, who takes a feather-toed touch before winning a corner. The first is cleared and then Croatia win another. Modric to take it …
ET 103 min: Croatia finally have a bit of possession. There is absolutely no movement in front of Modric and co though.
101 min: Croatia hoik a long ball over the top for Mandzukic but he’s offside.
ET 100 min: “Is extra-time just a waste of time?” asks David Penney. “In most cases both sides are so shattered it’s played at most at a jogging pace, both teams reluctant to over stretch their defences. I may be completely proven wrong in the next 30mins. Shouldn’t it just go straight to penalties and be done with it?” Denmark are making a go of it here David. But yes, it’s hardly electric stuff.
ET 98 min: Schone, who has been very good since replacing Christensen, takes a lovely touch with his instep before arcing a shot towards the far post from 25 yards that drifts a foot wide. Denmark are getting closer. Do you remember when Croatia were good?
Et 97 min: Delaney is replaced by Krohn-Dehli. After a difficult first half Delaney has been excellent.
Et 94 min: Eriksen is sent scuttling down the inside right channel. He clips the ball in towards Nicolai Jorgensen but it bounces and skips away to Knudsen on the far post. He skips into the box and is almost brought down by Perisic but wriggles free and stays on his feet before hammering a decent ball into the box that is cleared for a corner. The corner is cleared for a throw that Knudsen flings into the box, again causing panic. Denmark are well on top. Croatia look spent. This is the Knudsen show!
ET 92 min: The first throw is cleared to the edge of the box where Schone takes a shy at goal only for his shot to cannon off a defender and out for another throw. Knudsen shuffles over to the other side of the pitch and hurls another one in. Croatia head clear.
Peep! Extra-time is go!
ET 90 min: Knudsen curls a dipping ball into the box from the left that Braithwaite heads down towards Nicolai Jorgensen. It causes all kinds of jitters in the Croatia box and is eventually cleared. A throw-in on the right. Knudsen prepares his latest missile.
“As I try to take a positive out of a negative the current long wait for penalties is enlivened by the thought of how Ramos must be feeling,” chuckles Ian Copestake.
Ruth Purdue brings the love for referee Nestor Pitana. “He is always on it, rarely makes a mistake and doesn’t take any nonsense. Also helps players up. Refreshing. Hope he get’s further in the tournament.” He’s already got as far as any other Argentinian Ruth.
An email: “This match lacks Suker and spice,” honks Peter Oh. Can’t disagree Peter. The first four minutes feel like they took place at Brazil 2014.
We’re going to extra-time!
Yes, it’s Croatia 1-1 Denmark after 90 mins. We’ll have another 30 minutes of this. I hope it gets better.
90+3 min: Denmark race up the other end and win a corner. Eriksen whips it in from the right. Subasic gets a soft fist to it and Poulsen mishits a volley a foot wide.
90+1 min: Rakitic thumps a low shot at goal from 30 yards. It’s hit with some venom but ends up a foot wide of Schmeichel’s left-hand post.
90 min: It’s another looping torpedo but this one is hoofed well clear and Croatia start to build after gathering the ball in midfield. Also, there will be three more minutes of this before another 30 minutes of this. Argh!
89 min: Knudsen hurls another long throw into the box. It’s huge and flicks off Lovren’s head and runs out for another throw on the opposite side. Knudsen to do his Rory Delap impression again …
88 min: Schone fires well over from 20 yards. Denmark still fancy this.
86 min: Croatia have found their missing spark. Rebic twists Knudsen all over the place like a child’s rubber toy and then drills a cross into the box that causes all kinds of mayhem. Modric fires the ball into a defender and out for corner. This is more lively at last. The corner is a decent outswinger but the Danes defend it well.
84 min: Kovacic is dusted off and back on his feet. The free-kick is played short and worked out to Pivaric. He whips the ball in to the near-post, where Perisic flicks a looping header backwards and just over the bar.
82 min: Kovacic is dumped in a heap by a collection of Denmark players. He’s holding his shoulder and wearing a grim expression. He could be in trouble here.
80 min: Another Croatia change: Pivaric, a left-back, is coming on for Strinic, who has looked lost this half. Apparently Pivaric is a full-back of the bombing-on variety with a mistake in him. The Croation Alberto Moreno, if you like. There could be some fun times to be had if he goes on an adventurous dawdle up field.
79 min: “Not sure if he has already had his one for the game, but if not it might yet be enlivened by a Lovren faux pas,” writes Ian Copestake. Not yet Ian. But give him time. And boy, does this game need something to liven it up.
77 min: Modric attempts to trouble Schmeichel with a 30-yarder after a poor clearance but his shot his pulled well wide. And then Vrsaljko drills one straight at Schmeichel after a little shuffle through midfield. That’s more like it. From small acorns etc and so on …
75 min: Poulsen, who has found his mojo this half, is dragged back by Strinic having shown a lovely bit of skill to beat his man. Lovren has just bawled out his full-backs for not pushing higher up. They look like Argentina now. And that’s the Argentina who they beat 3-0.
72 min: Poulsen collects a glorious diagonal pass from Eriksen, cuts inside and sets up Nicolai Jorgensen inside him. The striker collects and swivels but fires straight at Subasic. Denmark still just edging this though.
70 min: Croatia decide to do something to get them going again. Zlatko Dalić brings on Kovacic for Brozovic, who has been playing hide and seek brilliantly this half.
68 min: OK this game is drifting towards beige. So, here’s Jonas Knudsen corner: “I keep hoping Denmark’s Knudsen has a daughter called Fawn, who is known by her friends as ‘Bunny,’” writes Ian Copestake. “Jonas Knudsen looks like a young Ray Coles, yes?” asks Kristian Jarken. Erm, readers?
66 min: Another Denmark change. Nicolai Jorgensen replaces Cornelius. He plays for Feyenoord where his strike rate is decent. I hope he livens things up.
65 min: Perisic finally rediscovers his motor and zooms into the box before winning a corner. He keeps the tempo up by taking it himself and whipping it into the six yard box where the Danes defend it diligently.
64 min: Croatia need to wake up!
62 min: Delaney steams into the box but is forced wide towards the right and runs out of space as he tries to cross. The Danes are the more lively team, though.
60 min: Denmark’s interplay is the more impressive now. Poulsen has livened up and tries a one-two with Cornelius that has Lovren worried for a moment. He stabs the ball away before it can be worked out towards Delaney on the left.
59 min: Perisic clips a ball in the vague direction of Rakitic at the back post but it drifts out of play and proves to be about as dangerous as a child’s birthday balloon.
58 min: Croatia are doing the square root of naff all. Denmark are doing a much better job of closing down the spaces in midfield and not allowing their opponents to play through them as they did at times in the first half.
55 min: Poulsen skidaddles past Strinic on the right wing and drills a low cross into the near post. It’s only half-cleared and Braithwaite picks up the rebound. He dinks the ball past his marker and has a great chance to fire at goal from an angle 10 yards out. But he tightens up and wallops the ball well wide. That was the best chance this half. He should have done better. Relax Martin! Breathe.
52 min: Denmark work the ball out from the back and then Jorgensen pings a pass out to Delaney, who finds Eriksen inside him. The playmaker tries to slide Knudsen in behind Perisic but the winger tracks back diligently. Both Denmark’s full-backs have pushed up much higher and are forcing both Perisic and Rebic to sit deeper where they are less of a threat. A shrewd move by Åge Hareide, who also brought Schone on for Christensen at half-time to help win the midfield battle.
50 min: Knudsen lofts a cross into the six-yard box after stealing a yard on Vrsaljko but Subisic leaps above Cornelius and catches comfortably. Denmark have upped the tempo here. They’re matching Croatia in the possession stakes for the first time in the game.
49 min: Nothing is happening. “Induced by the sideways passing of Spain I gave up on their match and had a snooze. It seemed these last 16 games are in danger of going the soporific route,” yawns Ian Copestake.
47 min: Dalsgaard has just body-slammed Rebic off the pitch and conceded a free-kick. I get the impression he wanted to make an impression early on in this half given he struggled so badly in the first. He’s done that all right in cynical style.
The second half!
45 min: Peep! There hasn’t been a goal yet. This half is already worse than the first.
A little bit of news that’s hardly surprising but still: Andrés Iniesta has retired from international football. What a player! Sid Lowe wrote a brilliant piece celebrating him some months ago.
Some reading while we wait for the second half:
“I’m no expert, but that hasn’t stopped Alan Shearer, so here goes: teams sitting deep usually lose. That’s all.” Shane O’Leary might be on to something.
Some emails: “Croatia are probably the best team in the competition*, Denmark are easily holding their own against Croatia*, Denmark barely scraped past Ireland in the playoffs*, ergo: Ireland are the Greatest Team in the World,” writes Liam Murray.
“* May not be true.”
“Sadly I can see this being occasional bouts of drama punctuated by 20 minutes either side of complete apathy,” writes Paul Sutton. “I finish work at 8pm and will listen to the game on the way home – either that or stick a Disturbed CD on because at least one of those will be vaguely entertaining.”
Half-time: Croatia 1-1 Denmark
Well, the last 41 minutes didn’t quite live up to the first four, but they were never going to I suppose.
45 min: Mandzukic needs treatment on an achilles injury after an innocuous challenge from Jorgensen. He looks in trouble but manages to carry on after treatment. I expect he’ll be assessed at half-time. His presence is so vital to Croatia’s shape.
44 min: Perisic is in acres of space on the left wing. He collects the ball with Dalsgaard perhaps considering the futility of humanity standing yards off him. Perisic shapes to whip the ball in with his left foot but instead disguises a delicious little pass inside to Rakitic who races on to the ball on the edge of the box and forces Schmeichel into a smart save at his near post. The Dane does well to smother it.
42 min: Eriksen just clipped the bar with what I believe was a cross towards the back post. Or maybe I’m mistaken and he’s so good that it was in fact an extravagantly nonchalant attempt at a chip. Either way, Subasic was nowhere near it. “Nearly three weeks ago, my wife drew Denmark in her office World Cup sweepstake. She described it as the most ‘meh’ sweepstake draw ever – and I couldn’t disagree with her for a moment – having neither comedy value nor any chance of returning her investment. She’s changed her tune now and is cheering her boys on.” I can well understand her predicament having drawn Sweden and feeling exactly the same way.
41 min: Denmark aren’t collectively good enough on the ball to make me believe they can win this. They often get to the final third and lack the finesse required* to find that killer pass.
*Unless Eriksen is on the ball
39 min: Modric whips a sizzling cross in to the back post where Dejan Lovren leaps and glances just wide under pressure. The delivery was so good I kind of feel he should have done better but maybe I’m being harsh. Lovren is either brilliant or awful isn’t he?
38 min: Croatia win a free-kick on the left. Modric is standing over it …
36 min: Fifa stat bods bring us an answer to whether the two goals were the fastest in a World Cup game. “You may think two goals in the first four minutes is special, but it happens all the time… well, it’s happened three times,” say Fifa. “The last one was only the 2014 World Cup, though, thanks to Nigeria and Argentina’s commitment to out-and-out entertainment whenever they meet! However, with Mario Mandzukic’s effort hitting the back of the net on 3:37, it does beat that game as the fastest occasion both teams have ever scored in at a World Cup.”
33 min: Rebic is proving a pesky menace at every opportunity. He cuts inside his marker and pings a shot at goal that is cleared by an outstretched leg … and then the full-back Strinic ambles through the Denmark midfield under little pressure and causes mild alarm in the Denmark box as Schmeichel rushes out and collides with his own defender in the process. Turns out Rebic fouled someone during that attack in any case.
32 min: Eriksen wins a corner on the right and drifts a good ball into the box that Croatia don’t clear with any real conviction. If Denmark are going to score it will likely be a header from a set-piece.
30 min: Rakitic stings Schmeichel’s palms with a 25-yarder. The keeper can’t hang on to it and Rebic picks up the rebound on the left. He spins on a sixpence and leaves Dalsgaard for dust before curling a ball into the six-yard box that Schmeichel should hold but instead flaps into the path of Perisic. He takes a heavy first touch and wallops way over from 12 yards under intense pressure. It’s warming up again.
28 min: Erisken plays a delightful little slide-rule pass into the path of Braithwaite. The forward gallops into the inside-right channel and attempts to slip the ball past Subasic, but the Croatian keeper stands up well and deflects the ball back on to the forward and out for a goal-kick. That was much better football from Denmark though, not least because they finally got their playmaker on the ball.
27 min: “I know there have been faster World Cup goals than the first one but is it reasonable to guess the second one was the earliest equaliser in World Cup history? At least in knockout games?” asks Robin Hazlehurst. Readers?
25 min: Denmark have decided to sit off and let Croatia have the ball. It’s not making this game easy on the eye but it’s probably a good idea given how easy the Croats have been getting behind the Danish full-backs.
23 min: I’m getting the impression not everyone enjoyed the drama of Russia going through. “Both teams playing as if they’ve been personally offended by the stultifying stodge served up earlier. Marvellous,” cheers Matthew Dony.
21 min: Perisic is getting on the ball at every opportunity. Dalsgaard is struggling on the right every bit as much as Knudsen is on the left. Croatia will score again. Perisic’s latest cross is hammered in low but cleared at the near post. Then Denmark break and Eriksen has a pop from 25 yards. It’s deflected out for a corner.
19 min: Perisic whips a cross in towards Mandzukic on the back post. Mandzukic and Knudsen are involved in a tussle and Mandzukic goes down and asks for a penalty. After a brief VAR check the referee waves it away. They were both holding each other. It was a cracking ball in by Perisic, though. He shifted the ball to his left foot in lightning fashion and put some amount of fizz on it.
17 min: Eriksen and Delaney combine well in midfield but a promising move ends abruptly when Cornelius hacks the ball to no one in the right corner. That was the opposite of Danish Dynamite. Danish Dishwater?
Careful now Hubert. We haven’t had a goal in over 10 minutes!
15 min: Modric gets his magic feet dancing on the right and wins a corner. It’s well defended again, though. Denmark’s Knudsen is really struggling to know who he should be picking up. Croatia are such a fluid team. Vrsaljko, Rebic and Modric have all popped up over on Croatia’s right wing to have a run at the young defender, who is being made to dash around like an amateur on a tennis court up against Roger Federer.
14 min: “After that start, the only way this can end is tied 1-1 and going to a penalty shootout,” reckons Jeffrey Lilley. I’m going for 4-4 and pens Jeffrey.
12 min: … but he clips the wall with his right foot curler and the ball sails away for a corner. It’s a corner that Denmark defend with much more assurance than they did for the goal they conceded.
11 min: Vrsaljko plays the ball inside to Rebic, who is tripped by Jorgensen right on the edge of the area. Perisic lines up to take it 19 yards out on the right of the box …
9 min: Croatia are slowly finding their groove after the manic start. Denmark are doing their best to press but Modric is starting to make things tick in midfield and Croatia are working the ball steadily around the pitch and now very much winning the possession war.
8 min: Relax. There hasn’t been a goal.
6 min: Let’s take a breath. Croatia worked the ball forwards with some slick interplay on the right and it was some slack defending by Jorgensen and Knudsen that allowed Rebic – I think – to deliver the cross from the right that Denmark made such a hash of trying to clear.
Goal! Croatia 1-1 Denmark (Mandzukic 4 )
Did I say this was was the World Cup that keeps on giving! Bloody hell! Denmark make a right mess of clearing a routine cross from the right, the ball being walloped into Christensen’s face and falling at Mandzukic’s right boot. He promptly sweeps the ball home from 10 yards. Incredible.
Goal! Croatia 0-1 Denmark (Jorgensen 2)
What a start! Knudsen – that’s Ipswich Town’s Knudsen – hurls in a throw which is allowed to drop at Delaney’s feet in the six-yard box. He shifts it to his side and knocks it sideways to Jorgensen, who bundles it scruffily over the line. This is the World Cup that keeps on giving!
1 min: Here we go! Denmark get this last 16 tie under way. It will have to go some way to match the drama in Russia earlier, but we can but hope. Croatia are wearing their changed strip of dark blue shorts and shirts with red socks and are shooting from left to right on my TV. Denmark are in white shirts with red shorts and white socks and are going the other way, so draw a picture of that in your heads if you like.
And now it’s anthem time. First up it’s Croatia’s anthem, a mid-tempo offering which isn’t quite belted out by all the players, though one fan does lose the run of himself and start bawling in the crowd. And now it’s Denmark’s turn. It’s slow and a bit stately but it’s given some welly by the supporters, all right. And with the music over and done with it’s time for football!
The teams are in the tunnel. It’s almost time for some more knockout drama. Note: more knockout drama not necessarily guaranteed. They trot out on to the turf at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium where there’s a cracking atmosphere with both sets of fans giving it plenty. It’s almost 9pm and still in the mid-20s in Nizhny Novgorod. They’ll be a bit sweaty all right.
Kári Tulinius offers a slightly less gushing view of Croatia than you might have read elsewhere: “Croatia have been the most assured side so far, but they played unsettled opponents in every game. Nigeria’s coach got the team selection badly wrong, Argentina’s coach set his team up in a strange formation to prove a point, and Iceland had to chase a win which is not the team’s natural stance against sides of Croatia’s quality. Croatia have the talent to set their sights on the final, but they haven’t had a proper test against a settled team. Maybe Denmark are the team to test them.” In fact, Slaven Bilic has pretty much echoed Kari’s view on TV, saying Croatia do not always respond well to pressure.
Not long till kick-off now. While we wait let Davor Suker take you through his piece of insouciant brilliance against Denmark in Sheffield at Euro 96.
“Mad Dog Jonas Knudsen gets his World Cup chance,” trills Niels Pedersen. Indeed he does – and what a few months he has had. He’s recently flown home to see his prematurely born baby and the last competitive game he played was for his club Ipswich in the 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough in the Championship on 6 May. This will be some night for him. He starts at left-wing back, where he can expect a feisty tussle with the livewire Ante Rebic.
Croatia are no longer a darkhorse are they? You look at this side of the draw and they’re surely favourites to emerge in Moscow on 15 July in the World Cup final. I wonder if there’s a slight advantage in being a smaller nation in the latter stages because the expectation doesn’t weigh as heavy on the players’ shoulders as it does on say Brazil or France and previously Spain and Argentina? Seeing such an open World Cup must be difficult viewing for some of the bigger nations who didn’t make it to Russia mustn’t it? For some, it’s a daily nightmare.
Both these nations have produced some wonderfully creative footballers down the years. Robert Prosinecki’s feet were just incredible. What a silky master he was. And you could pick one of many great Danes but my personal favourite is the Great Dane Jan Molby. Call me biased, but his passing was just incredible in an era of football when possession play was just not in vogue. In fact David Hytner’s preview references that era of Danish brilliance in the 1980s. You can read it here:
And if you’ve still never read Rob Smyth’s and Lars Eriksen’s magnum opus on 1980s Denmark, football’s greatest cult team, it’s still not too late. It’s here in its first form and also available in bookshops.
Opportunity knocks! One of Russia, Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Colombia and England will be in the World Cup final. If Croatia and Denmark players needed a little extra fuel for this one, surely knowledge of the above helps pump it into their limbs.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Rebic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic. Subs: Livakovic, Corluka, Kovacic, Kramaric, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Badelj, Pjaca, Pivaric, Lovre Kalinic.
Denmark: Schmeichel, Knudsen, Kjaer, Mathias Zanka Jorgensen, Dalsgaard, Christensen, Delaney, Eriksen, Poulsen, Cornelius, Braithwaite. Subs: Lossl, Krohn-Dehli, Vestergaard, Kvist, Nicolai Jorgensen, Dolberg, Fischer, Larsen, Lerager, Schone,
Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina)
While we wait for the team news and digest the news from Moscow, why not have a read of Sachin Nakrani’s love letter to Luka Modric.
Well, well, well. Whoever wins this will face Russia, not Spain. Blimey! What a World Cup this is! Spain are out on penalties! The hosts march on! Anyway, you’re probably all in shock, like I am, but I’ll carry on with a preamble for this match now.
I know it’s not news but Croatia have been brilliant to watch in Russia! While many of the bigger nations have stumbled around like sleepy giants looking for their glasses and a bit of form, Croatia have just clicked. They’re playing with a rhythm and understanding that makes them seem like a well-grooved club side rather than an international one. In that regard another smaller nation with eyes on the prize, Uruguay, are similar but Croatia have greater creativity. Their midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic is overflowing with ideas and energy. They’re as good as any at the tournament. They also have aggressive attackers. Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic are wide-eyed rabid forwards who look angry in and out of possession. They are a frightening prospect for full-backs. While Mario Mandzukic’s muscle up top helps give the team shape.
So, all this spells trouble for Denmark doesn’t it? Well, probably. The Danes haven’t impressed in the group stage. They were lucky to beat Peru, prosaic in a 1-1 draw with Australia and were booed off after stinking the place out in a goalless draw with France. Still, they are unbeaten in 18 games and will not be easy to get behind. The Danish public would rather their Norwegian coach, Åge Hareide, take the handbrake off now they’re playing knockout football. The Denmark midfielder Thomas Delaney has hinted that they may play a little more expressively: “We’re not going to lose 5-0 by trying to play tiki-taka football,” he said. “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.”
If this game is indeed to be World Cup eye-candy Denmark will have to find a way to afford Christian Eriksen a little more freedom. The Tottenham midfielder has not been able to influence games as he can but without his ingenuity and goal-threat Denmark have very little to offer. It will be interesting to see how he performs up against the creator he replaced at Spurs. Modric has been inventive, buzzy and brilliant so far. The Croatia captain has also snapped into tackles and won back possession like a real leader. Eriksen will need to show similar dynamism and have a game for the ages to inspire this Denmark team to do what they have not been able to since 1998 and reach a World Cup quarter-final. For the sake of entertainment, I hope he brings a bit of Danish Dynamite to the party.
My prediction: Croatia 3-1 Denmark
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