Denmark pushed Croatia to the brink as it took a penalty shootout Sunday to separate the two teams in the World Cup last 16, with the Nordic nation succumbing only at the end, 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 tie over 120 minutes. Kasper Schmeichel will go home a hero regardless, saving an extra-time spot kick from Luca Modric, then two in the subsequent shootout to bring his country within an inch of the quarterfinals.
The Danes finally turned up for the World Cup. Few expected Denmark to compete let alone take one of the tournament's most impressive teams to penalties, but Age Hareide's side rarely looked second-best Sunday night. Bursts of attacking excitement from the likes of Yussuf Poulsen and the heroics of Schmeichel suggest Denmark have something to build on going forward, even if the quarterfinals wasn't to be this time.
Denmark looked so much better when they went for it and avoided the cautiousness that has defined their World Cup campaign. It is tempting to ask if they could have pushed Croatia just that bit more and been rewarded for it rather than apparently willingly settling for penalties early on in extra time.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Hareide promised to deliver a more offensive, recognizable Denmark before the match and for the most part, he delivered. The Norwegian wasn't afraid to take risks to achieve his goal, making sweeping changes to the starting XI and trying a half-time substitution that improved his team further. Danes will hope to see more of the more vibrant, traditionally Danish style they saw Sunday in the future.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kasper Schmeichel, 10 -- The keeper regularly delivered when called into action, stopping several shots by Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in the game proper, but it was in the closing phase that he showed how good he truly is. A stunning clutch save to deny Modric in the final seconds of extra time would have made his dad, Peter, proud -- he was watching on in the stands -- and if some of his teammates had matched the two further saves he produced in the shootout with better penalties, perhaps Denmark would have progressed.
DF Henrik Dalsgaard, 4 -- Absolutely shredded by Ivan Perisic in the first half, the right-back looked flat-footed and desperate to be elsewhere, and didn't fare much better when squaring off with Ante Rebic. Tightened things up somewhat later on.
DF Simon Kjaer, 7 -- Tried his best to close down Mario Mandzukic for Croatia's goal, but the break of the ball left him with little hope. Solid in the air and largely kept things simple on the ball, producing the odd raking pass from deep. Thundered his penalty into the back of the net in the shootout.
DF Mathias Jorgensen, 7 -- A surprise inclusion in the lineup, the centre-back got off to a dream start by being the sharpest in the box and slotting home the opening goal with less than a minute played. Followed that with a chaotic period in which Croatia got their equalizer, but settled and stepped up yet again toward the end, when he took one for the team and hauled down Rebic once Schmeichel was rounded. Denmark wouldn't have made it to the shootout if not for that tactical foul.
DF Jonas Knudsen, 4 -- Threw the ball like an Olympian to create the unexpected Denmark opener with only 40 seconds gone but was turned inside-out on the flank not long after, allowing Croatia to equalise. Like Dalsgaard on the opposite wing, he didn't enjoy facing Perisic and Rebic but settled in the more cautious extra-time period.
MF Andreas Christensen, 5 -- Moved into the midfield to try to help shackle Croatia, the Chelsea man's first contribution was to have the ball blast his face and fall for Mandzukic to level it. Showed some neat distribution from deep to try to help break lines when Denmark were on the attack, but was hooked at half-time and Denmark were a bigger threat for it.
MF Thomas Delaney, 7 -- Played a big part in the opener with some cool shielding in the Croatia area and showed a nice range of passing thereafter, spraying possession out wide and slowing play when necessary. Produced a couple of driving runs from deep later on to keep Croatia guessing before being taken off in extra time after expending his energy.
MF Yussuf Poulsen, 8 -- Denmark's best player in the first 90 minutes, his efforts bettered only by Schmeichel's heroics later on. Tried to propel his team forward from the wing whenever he could, showing strength to fend off opponents and fleet-footedness to create space and either whip in a cross or come inside to play one-twos with teammates. Great takedown produced a golden chance for Jorgensen late in the second half that could have settled the game.
MF Christian Eriksen, 6 -- An odd night for the man who is so often Denmark's heartbeat. Initially managed to get on the ball in the final third more than previous games at this tournament, slipping a couple of nice through-balls behind Croatia's back four and firing off a shot or two. After the break, however, he was more or less nullified, popping up only sporadically thereafter. Applied decent power to his penalty, but the height allowed Danijel Subasic to save.
MF Martin Braithwaite, 5 -- Looked most effective on the occasions he could play off Eriksen, though Croatia rarely allowed that to happen. Showed smart movement in some instances but drifted in and out of the game before eventually being taken off in extra time.
FW Andreas Cornelius, 3 -- Pressed with purpose but often clumsy and laboured when in possession. Rightly subbed off in the second half after doing nothing of note.
MF Lasse Schöne, 7 -- Improved Denmark's attacking play when he came on for Christensen at half-time by looking for the early pass forward whenever possible, as well as seeking out shooting opportunities from the edge of the box. Assured when under pressure, too, and a neat display in general, though his penalty was frustratingly weak.
FW Nicolai Jorgensen, 5 -- Remained on the bench as against France but was called into action with 65 minutes played. Battled hard to win aerial balls and give Denmark a different way to attack, chasing everything with purpose, but as a striker should have done more with the couple of chances that fell his way. Hesitant with his penalty and made life too easy for Subasic.
MF Michael Krohn-Dehli, NR -- The veteran came on in extra time to in theory add some control and aid tired Danish legs, but lost a costly ball that led to Modric's penalty, which could have sent Denmark home before the shootout. Made up for it with a perfectly placed spot kick.
FW Pione Sisto, NR -- On for the second period of extra time after being dropped by Hareide. Produced some nice runs and flashed a shot just wide.