A furious start devolved into a sporadic chess match that required penalties to make the difference, and it seemed penalties would be required to decide the match. Then Croatia had its moment. Then Denmark snuffed it out. Then Croatia was celebrating anyways.
A wild, roller coaster of emotions sandwiched 100 minutes of forgettable play as Croatia and Denmark draw 1-1, and Croatia goes through in the exciting penalty shootout 3-2. Luka Modric had a penalty saved by Kasper Schmeichel in the 117th minute in what certainly appeared to be the potentially winning moment, but the Real Madrid midfielder came back to score his spot-kick in the shootout on the way to victory.
The match got off to a beautifully sloppy start, and it resulted in a pair of absurd goals. First, it was Denmark to benefit from a stroke of luck as a long throw caused a scramble in the box and Mathias Jorgensen scuffed shot inexplicably found its way through the legs of three different defenders and trickled over the line off the fingertips of Danijel Subasic who will have expected to do better.
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Three minutes later, Croatia was level as a beautiful bit of play on the wing saw Ante Rebic threat Ivan Rakitic through on the right edge of the box. The Barcelona midfielder saw his cross cleared, but the boot by Henrik Dalsgaard crashed into the face of Andreas Christensen and fell right in the lap of Mario Mandzukic who finished calmly on the turn.
The game settled slightly with Croatia controlling the majority of possession. Ivan Perisic has a free-kick from a dangerous area in the 12th minute but couldn’t get it past the wall. Mandzukic shouted for a penalty after going down in the box on 20 minutes, but nothing was given and VAR concurred.
Croatia continued to be the more dangerous side, with Perisic flubbing a major chance just before the half-hour mark. The Inter Milan attacker drove his half-volley straight into the ground, and with the ball bouncing straight back to him, he skied the second attempt well over.
Denmark’s best chance of the second half came in the 71st minute as Yussuf Poulsen cut into the right edge of the box and found Nicolai Jorgensen in space but his shot was weak and directly at Subosic who collected easily. The game quieted significantly down the stretch run of regulation, with the only looks on net for either an Ivan Rakitic shot from distance that skidded just wide left and a Braithwaite volley that also just missed.
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The game progressed to extra time, and Denmark took over as the more dangerous side, but still couldn’t put anything significant together. Then, the moment came where Croatia seemed to have the game by the scruff of the neck. Modric fed a brilliant through-ball to Ante Rebic, and through on goal he’s taken down by the last man Zanka as he rounded Schmeichel. That drew a penalty, although only a yellow card was shown to the Danish defender thanks to the new double-jeopardy rule.
With Croatia on the doorstep of the quarterfinals in the 117th minute, Schmeichel stepped up and saved Modric’s weak penalty, and the game would go to a shootout. Both goalkeepers were fantastic in the penalty shootout, saving a combined five attempts – the first time in World Cup history a penalty shootout featured five saves – but Subasic picked up a kick-save of Jorgensen’s penalty in the final round, and Rakitic scored the decider to put Croatia through.