Croatia 1-1 (3-2 on penalties) Denmark: match report
Luka Modric had the chance to send his team into a quarter-final against hosts Russia with a penalty four minutes from the end of extra time but Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel dived to his left to save the spot kick.
A dramatic start with two goals in the first four minutes promised a full-blooded contest to decide who would meet Russia in Sochi on Saturday after the hosts beat Spain on penalties in Sunday's early game.
Denmark went ahead after 57 seconds when Mathias Jorgensen scuffed the ball over the line off the foot of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic but Mario Mandzukic had the Croats back on terms with an equally scrappy finish three minutes later.
The remainder of the contest failed to live up to the frenetic start with the physical Danes successfully nullifying the threat of the Croatian midfield that lit up the group stage of the tournament. Ivan Rakitic scored the winning penalty after some excellent saves from Subasic and Schmeichel in goals for the respective sides. Croatia carry on in the competition but will need to improve if they are thinking of progressing beyond the next round.
Croatia vs Denmark: how it happened
Croatia vs Denmark: match preview
Croatia will look to make good on their “Golden generation” tag against Denmark in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium when they face Denmark in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup on Sunday evening.
Blessed with arguably the finest midfield of any competing nation in Russia, Croatia topped Group D in style with three wins from three, including a 3-0 drubbing of Argentina, scoring seven times and conceding just once.
Denmark, who reached the showpiece in Russia through the playoffs, had one of the meanest defences in the group stage and went through to the knock-out stages in second place behind France. However, Age Hareide’s side have managed only two goals in their three matches to date and are heavily reliant on the quick feet and nimble mind of Christian Eriksen.
The Danes did manage to keep France quiet in the their final encounter so Croatia may find opportunities at a premium and Hareide does have other weapons in his armoury including wingers Youssef Yurary Poulsen, who returns from suspension for this one, Pione Sisto and the so-far little used Ajax striker Kasper Dolberg, who possesses an instinctive eye for goal.
Croatia, the perennial dark horse, have seen the draw open up a little after landing in the half that does not feature Brazil, France, Uruguay and Belgium and are in a good position to emulate the class of 1998 and their third-placed finish in France.
The winners on Sunday will go on to face either Spain or Russia, with one of Sweden, Switzerland, Colombia or England waiting in the semi-finals. For many of Croatia’s current squad, not least captain and talisman Luka Modric, Russia will probably be their last shot at World Cup glory.
Denmark will be a tough nut to crack but Croatia go into the game as favourites, a label they rarely carry in major tournaments but one that is starting to look more comfortable around their necks in Russia after a perfect group stage.