I have waxed lyrical to everybody that will listen about Croatia at World Cup 2018. However, on Sunday night Zlatko Dalic’s side needed penalty kicks to beat Denmark to make it to the World Cup quarter-finals.
The game finished 1-1 after extra-time and it took penalty kicks to decide the game. The penalty kicks came after the drama of Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel saving a late Luka Modric penalty kick in normal time.
Denmark boss outsmarted Dalic
Denmark boss Age Hareide outsmarted Croatian counterpart Dalic in the second half of last night’s encounter. Croatia looked the more likely team to head through to the last eight in the first half.
However, in the first 25 minutes of the second half Denmark completely nullified Croatia’s attacking threat. The Danes even looked the more likely to score, as Hareide decided to attack the opposition.
Often five or six players were up in the Danish attacks, as Croatia were pinned back. Striker Mario Mandzukic looked an isolated figure until the last 15 minutes, when Croatia’s attack minded players finally came alive.
The fact that Denmark came out with a braver approach in the second period was an obvious tactical move from the Scandinavian boss. He saw a golden opportunity to make it through to the last-eight, but his side just could not find the winning goal.
Key players need to shine again
Croatia have one of the best midfield partnerships in the World Cup in Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. The pair have everything in their lookers and are top performers.
They have already shown their quality in the group stages, getting on the scoresheet, creating goals and proving to be generally influential. The pair had mixed games against Denmark, though.
Neither could have an influence in the opening period of that second half against Denmark, in an attacking sense anyway. However, Modric’s pinpoint pass for Ante Rebic to win a penalty at the death was a sign of the quality he possesses.
Unfortunately, for the Real Madrid midfielder, Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel produced a superb save from his spot-kick. The former Spurs midfielder made amends for the miss by scoring in the successful shoot-out.
If Croatia are to further progress in Russia 2018, then Rakitic and Modric have to rediscover their early tournament form. They are capable of being highly influential for their national side and I suspect they will be once again against Russia in the last eight.
Croatia could go even further than ’98 in 2018
The Croatian national team made history in 1998 by finishing third-place in France. It was their first World Cup as an independent nation after an impressive Euro ’96.
Slaven Bilic, Zvonimir Boban, Davor Suker and co surprised everybody by making the semi-finals and almost completed what would have been one of the most amazing stories in the history of international football.
Croatia could have a chance to better their performance in France, as they are arguably the easier side of the draw. The Eastern European nation are now odds of 9/5 to reach the World Cup final, second only to tournament favourites Brazil in the betting.
Those odds suggest that the bookmakers believe Croatia to be the strongest side in their side of the draw. The assessment is favourite judging by their early tournament performances.
However, Croatia must up their game against host nation Russia if they are to make history by making it further than ever before a World Cup finals tournament.
Can Croatia progress further than ever at a World Cup in Russia 2018?
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