Wednesday 26 September 2018

Modric’s blushes saved in shoot-out

Croatia 1 Denmark 1 (Croatia win 3-2 on pens, aet)

Luka Modric (centre) celebrates with his Croatian team-mates after their penalty shoot-out victory over Denmark. Photo: Getty Images
Luka Modric (centre) celebrates with his Croatian team-mates after their penalty shoot-out victory over Denmark. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson in Nizhny Novgorod

Even the force of Peter Schmeichel, leaping up and down from the stands with all the gusto of old, could not quite rescue Denmark.

His son, Kapser, had performed heroics in saving three penalties - including one from Luka Modric four minutes from the end of extra-time.

Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Photo: AP
Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Photo: AP

But it is still Croatia who will play Russia for a place in the World Cup semi-finals after Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic side-footed home the winner in a dramatic penalty shoot-out, where a combination of goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and misses by Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schone and Nicolai Jorgensen ended Denmark's campaign.

A huge opportunity now awaits Croatia to reach a first World Cup final.

There had been huge drama late in extra-time when Ante Rebic sprinted clear on goal and was certain to score until he upended by Mathias Jorgensen, having already gone past Schmeichel.

Modric, who had also delivered the defence-splitting pass to set up the chance, had his penalty saved by Schmeichel, who had moved yards off his line, to send the game into the lottery of a shoot-out.

Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic blocks Denmark's Nicolai Jorgensen's penalty. Photo: AP
Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic blocks Denmark's Nicolai Jorgensen's penalty. Photo: AP

Christian Eriksen, taking the first penalty in front of the Danish banners, raised his foot and struck an upright.

Two more Danes and two more Croats missed and then it came down to Ivan Ratikic against Schmeichel.

The man from Barcelona took his time and coolly beat the great Dane and put Croatia into the quarter-finals.

Having begun with two goals in the opening four minutes, the levels of excitement drained away until extra-time and then penalties were accepted with a shrug of the shoulders.

Croatia's Ante Rebic and Denmark's Jonas Knudsen battle for the ball. Photo: AP
Croatia's Ante Rebic and Denmark's Jonas Knudsen battle for the ball. Photo: AP

You could hardly blame Denmark. They really only had Eriksen and their chief weapon was the long throw-in, which suggests Tony Pulis might have a cult following in Copenhagen.

Skipped

They played the only game they could; to wear down and frustrate the dark horses of this tournament.

If anything summed up the night, it was the sight of Modric on the byline. He skipped left, he skipped right, like Sugar Ray Leonard on the canvas at Madison Square Gardens.

Denmark's Yussuf Yurary Poulsen and Croatia's Ivan Strinic. Photo: AP
Denmark's Yussuf Yurary Poulsen and Croatia's Ivan Strinic. Photo: AP

Martin Braithwaite simply stood in front of him and Modric got nowhere.

With Spain gone, the road to the final in Moscow was open for the brilliant thirty-somethings of Croatia, who knew this was their last World Cup.

By the hour mark they found themselves not on a dual-carriageway but a dirt-track. After two hours they were lost completely.

It had begun so promisingly. Within two minutes, before the sun had properly set into the Volga, Denmark were ahead. It was a scruffy goal but it scarcely mattered.

Croatia were fielding footballers from Monaco, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.

Denmark had players from Ipswich and Brentford and they went ahead through Huddersfield's centre-half, Mathias Jorgensen.

Croatia made a hash of dealing with a long throw from Simon Kjaer, allowing Jorgensen to shoot.

In a crowded area Danijel Subasic in Croatia's goal saw it late. The ball struck the inside of his glove and rolled over the line via the inside of the post.

Before they flew to Nizhny Novgorod from their training base on Russia's Black Sea coast, Braithwaite, wondered what might happen if Croatia conceded first.

Everything in this World Cup had gone for them, they had never been behind but, "if they conceded first, even they don't know how they will react".

Croatia reacted by equalising within two minutes. It was almost as untidy as Denmark's goal.

It began conventionally enough with Rebic and Sime Vrsaljko combining down the Croatian right.

This time Brentford's Henrik Dalsgaard made a hash of a clearance which managed to strike Andreas Christiansen square in the face and ricocheted to the prowling boots of Mario Mandzukic.

Two goals scored, four minutes gone. For a game in a World Cup, this was apparently a record.

There were to be no more, although Dejan Lovren surely should have converted a free header.

Modric was playing deeper than you might expect, looking for the killer pass, the perfect cross and when they didn't come off, he would thrust his hand through his blond mane.

As the only man in the Denmark squad, with the possible exception of Schmeichel, who would command a place in Croatia's team, much, perhaps too much, rested on Eriksen.

If the pressure was acute, there were moments when he shone like a beacon.

There was a lovely ball to Braithwaite but his shooting had seen him lose his place at Middlesbrough and the shot was scuffed.

Then came another lovely moment from Eriksen, a chip on to the top of the post.

It was a reminder, just as the fate of Germany, Spain and Argentina had been a reminder, that nothing in this World Cup is going to form or plan.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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