It was a full day of penalty-kick drama at the World Cup, with Croatia advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals by outlasting Denmark in a shootout just hours after Russia had done the same to beat Spain in a huge upset. Combined, the two games offered a remarkable number of saves in one-on-one, high-wire confrontations.
The Croatia-Denmark game, in Nizhny Novgorod, started with a stunning outburst, both sides scoring within the first four minutes. But the last 116 or so mostly had defensive play, plus plenty of missed shots.
Denmark went ahead in the very first minute after a huge throw-in by Jonas Knudsen sent the ball into the penalty area, where Croatia was in some disarray. Thomas Delaney got a touch and nudged it to Mathias Jorgensen, who took a shot; it bounced off a couple of Croatian players, including the goalkeeper, and went in.
Croatia’s answer three minutes later was also bizarre. Henrik Dalsgaard of Denmark attempted to clear the ball, but he spanked it right into the head of his teammate Andreas Christensen. It caromed back to the Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, who accepted the gift and scored from a couple yards out. It was 1-1.
But the furious scoring pace didn’t last, as the game petered out. Both sides, especially Denmark, focused on defense, and any chances that materialized were squandered, sometimes badly. Finally, for the second time on Sunday, a World Cup knockout game went to extra time.
With four minutes left in the added periods, Croatia had a tantalizing opportunity to win it outright. Croatia’s Luka Modric passed from the halfway line to a streaking Ante Rebic. He beat the Denmark goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, and raced toward the goal unimpeded. Jorgensen, the Danish defender rushing in from behind, had little choice but to bring down Rebic, and it was an easy penalty call for the referee.
But Modric’s penalty kick was not strong, and Schmeichel came up with a huge save, holding onto the ball to prevent a rebound.
And so the two teams went on to the second penalty shootout of the day,which turned into a display of solid goalkeeping guesswork. Each side had two of its first four shots blocked, which actually gave Schmeichel three penalty saves, counting his previous one on Modric.
Then came the fifth round of the shootout. Nicolai Jorgensen’s bid to score for Denmark was saved by Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic — his third save in the shootout. It was up to Schmeichel to yet again come through for Denmark and keep the shootout going. But Ivan Rakitic, the Barcelona star, fired the ball past him, and Croatia was through to the next round.
Croatia must be excited about a matchup with host Russia in the quarterfinal next Saturday. But on the evidence of this game, Russia may be excited about the matchup, too. And in any case, both teams can thank their goalies for stellar work in the shootouts. They kept both Russian and Croatia alive.