Cape Town - Croatia have advanced through to the quarter-finals of the Soccer World Cup in Russian Federation after defeating Denmark in a thrilling penalty shootout on Sunday evening. But the Croatians were in no mood to let Denmark enjoy the unprecedented lead for very long as they too found the net soon after.
The following 116 minutes though largely failed to live up to the first four, fireworks giving way to a damp squib of an encounter as the game edged inexorably towards extra time and penalties.
It was a harsh defeat for Denmark, particularly for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel who not only saved twice in the shootout but also denied Croatia captain Luka Modric from the spot in extra-time for what would likely have been the victor.
But captained by former Spurs standout and current Real Madrid star Luka Modric, Croatia made it through their three group stage games with a flawless 3-0 record and emerged as the fourth-highest scoring side in the 2018 World Cup tournament, according to FIFA.com, and soccer experts believe the current Croatian team may be better than the 1998 edition that made it to the semifinals of the World Cup that year, ultimately to finish third.
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CROATIA SCORE! Rakitic sends Schmeichel the wrong way from the spot and Croatia are into the quarter finals of the World Cup! Expectations are running so high, in fact, that Luka Modric and Co are fancied to equal or even better the third place Croatia achieved at France 1998. Schmeichel could only do the same to Milan Badelj and Josip Pivaric.
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It was important, however, to remember the work of an entire team and the many staff behind them, he said.
Denmark, which is set to take on Croatia Sunday, suffered its last defeat against Montenegro in 2016 in the World Cup qualifiers.
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Welcome to 1 NEWS NOW's live coverage of the 2018 Football World Cup from Russian Federation.
Both matches will be broadcast live on SONY ESPN, TEN 3 and TEN 2. If Croatia's golden generation are to take this golden opportunity, they must improve on this. There will be two 15-minute periods. We do not think we are favourites in the game against Denmark.
Denmark have relied upon the considerable creative talents of Christian Eriksen to provide their spark so far, and that's unlikely to change against Croatia.
Given their high profiles, plenty of focus has fallen on how they will get on in Nizhny Novgorod, with their rivalry widely portrayed as being crucial to how Sunday's game will unfold.
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Denmark head coach Hareide told Fifa.com: "Christian has played a fantastic qualification campaign".