Croatia worthy quarter-finalists, says coach after win vs Denmark
Nizhny Novgorod: Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic says his faith in his footballers has gone up as they overcame Denmark 3-2 (1-1) via penalty shootout to enter the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals after a gap of 20 years.
After an enthralling start to the match which saw Mathias Jorgensen for Denmark and Mario Mandzukic for Croatia score within just four minutes, the teams couldn't be separated till the end of 120 minutes of play as Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel denied a penalty from Croatia captain Luka Modric.
In the penalty shootout, Schmeichel's counterpart, Danijel Subasic shone brighter, becoming the first goalkeeper to block three attempts during the tie-breaker in the World Cup history.
Ivan Rakitic scored Croatia's fifth attempt to send them into the last eight stage where they will meet hosts Russia, who eliminated Spain earlier in the day in Moscow. "I think this can only get us closer together and make us stronger. After you win such a game, you know you are worth it. And my faith in my players is also stronger," the coach was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.
"We are happy with what we have achieved, but we know we have to do more."
Subasic had seen the worst of starts to the game when Denmark broke the deadlock 58 seconds into the game. Jonas Knudsen hurled a long throw from the right into the box where Thomas Delaney brought it down before making a side-pass to Jorgense, whose shot bounced off a couple of defenders before scruffily going over the line.
Subasic then celebrated Croatia's equaliser within three minutes. Denmark's Henrik Dalsgaard failed to make a proper clearance off a cross as it kissed the face of fellow teammate Andreas Cristensen before Mandzukic swept it home for the equaliser, giving no chance to Schmeichel.
Mandzukic in the 19th minute appealed for a penalty claiming a foul by Knudsen as they tussled for a cross from Ivan Perisic but a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) waved the Croatian's demand away.
Both teams played attacking football for the rest of the first half, producing one chance after another as Subasic stood tall to deny Martin Braithwaite, who ran in from the inside right of the box and tried to slip past the keeper after being fed by Christian Erisken in the 26th minute.
Three minutes later, Rakitic's 25-yard shot was palmed away by Schmeichel but Rebic grabbed the rebound before he overcame Dalsgaard at the left byline and fired a six-yard curler which again failed to breach the Danish glovesman. The rebound fell into the path of Perisic, whose left-footed drive from 12 yards away sailed over.