Andreas Christensen deployment is key for Denmark and other tactical battles for Croatia game

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Croatia will look to build on the momentum earned from a perfect Group D campaign when they battle Christian Eriksen’s unbeaten Denmark in World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

Zlatko Dalic’s men won all three matches, including a 3-0 humiliation of Lionel Messi and Argentina, to reinforce their status as dark horses.

This will be tested by ‘Danish Dynamite’. They proved in the competition’s only goalless draw, against France, that the Croats cannot expect a walkover at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Sunday.

Here are the tactical battles:

THROUGH THE MIDDLE

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Croatia’s main strength is hardly a secret.

Through Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic, they will look to put a stranglehold on possession against the Danes. It is up to their opponents to break this hold.

Central to this will be head coach Aga Hareide’s deployment of Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen. The 22-year-old started at centre-back for the opening 1-0 victory against Peru and subsequent 1-1 draw with Australia, before moving up into defensive midfield to see things out during the goalless stalemate against France.

Christensen offers a superior passing ability from the back than replacement, Mathias Jorgensen. He also has the legs on 32-year-old Ajax anchor man Lasse Schone in the middle.

A repeat of the France trick could work wonders for the Danes.

ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE

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Dalic can count himself a lucky man.

The ex-Al Ain tactician made nine changes when Group D wound up – and Croatia still earned a 2-1 victory against an Iceland side scrapping for survival.

Milan Badelj was utterly outstanding upon his World Cup debut. The 29-year-old, a coveted free agent now his deal at Fiorentina has run down, struck the crossbar, showed wonderful technique to volley in the 53rd-minute opener and made a leading five interceptions.

Food for thought, as Dalic decides whether to draft Brozovic back into the XI.

GET ON THE FRONT FOOT

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Denmark have made their intention known that they intend to open up in the knockouts.

It is one thing saying this – and another delivering it.

The return of RB Leipzig forward Yussuf Poulsen – the match-winner against Peru – should add to the Danes’ threat. Otherwise, alternative options for boss Hareide are hard to spot.

Forward Kasper Dolberg endured teething problems during his sophomore campaign at Ajax and was handed only 16 minutes in the group stage. Middlesbrough’s Martin Braithwaite and FC Copenhagen’s Viktor Fischer haven’t fared much better.

Another method could be to go more direct with hulking Atalanta centre forward Andreas Cornelius preferred to Feyenoord’s Nicolai Jorgensen. The former’s average of 8.5 aerials duels won per match in Russia is six more than the latter.

This would provide a greater platform for Eriksen and Sione Pisto to latch onto knockdowns.

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Croatia must embrace the past and other talking points ahead of Denmark knockout clash

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Croatia will look to build on the momentum earned from a perfect Group D campaign when they battle Christian Eriksen’s unbeaten Denmark in World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

Zlatko Dalic’s men historically won all three matches, including a 3-0 humiliation of Lionel Messi and Argentina, to reinforce their status as dark horses.

This will be tested by ‘Danish Dynamite’. They proved in the competition’s only goalless draw, against France, that the Croats cannot expect a walkover at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Sunday.

Here are the talking points:

HAND OF HISTORY

An achievement now two decades old was supposed to cast the largest shadow over this campaign for Croatia.

The charge from Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Co to France 1998’s semi-finals dominates the conversation. Indeed, the current crop are the first to escape the groups on the global stage since those Halcyon days.

But of more pertinence is Euro 2016’s rank disappointment.

Under divisive predecessor Ante Cacic, the Vatreni promisingly finished ahead of holders Spain in the group stages. Then in the round of 16, Ricardo Quaresma popped up during extra time to deflate all hopes and send eventual winners Portugal through.

“It’s all great for the history books in Croatia but if we don’t win against Denmark, when someone asks you what you did, what can you say? Nothing,” Dalic said on Wednesday.

“Our first goal for this World Cup was to pass the group stage but that doesn’t really satisfy myself or the team. We have Denmark against us now and that’s the moment of truth.”

A sizeable 17 members of Dalic’s 23-man squad were present on that mournful day in Lens.

With an average age of 27.9-years-old, a figure advanced by talisman Luka Modric (32) and Ivan Rakitic (30), a better chance to repeat the antics of Suker’s hallowed generation might not appear.

LIGHTING THE FUSE FOR ‘DANISH DYNAMITE’

The time has come for Denmark to live up to their explosive nickname.

‘Danish Dynamite’ was in short supply during a run to second spot in Group C that was only lit up by Eriksen’s sustained brilliance.

Denmark scored just two goals, plus the soporific scoreless stalemate against France produced a cacophony of boos at Luzhniki Stadium last week.

Their average of 8.3 attempts on goal per game was the least in the pool, as was average possession of 44.3 per cent and pass accuracy of 79.5 per cent.

At the other end of the pitch, only Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa (17) has been called on to make more saves than Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel (14).

A door has been bolted and the lock remains loose. For head coach Age Hareide, his team must step things up a level to stand any chance of advancement.

He said: “I’m sure the fact we now go into a stage of the tournament where it’s cup ties will make it more free, and not so constrained.

“There’s absolutely everything to play for now, and everything needs to be ‘used up’ during the 90 minutes, and not over three matches.”

Going up through the gears should not be an alien feeling.

Denmark produced one of the European qualification processes’ most impressive results when they dismantled Poland 4-0. In the play-offs, the 5-1 triumph in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland further evidenced their latent attacking prowess.

An explosive display could yet follow in Nizhny Novgorod.

DELANEY’S WALKING A TIGHTROPE

Fine margins should decide this contest.

No player can afford any distractions, least of which is Denmark defensive midfielder Thomas Delaney. Borussia Dortmund’s new €20 million (Dh86m) signing from Werder Bremen must break up Croatia’s passing carousel for his nation to stand any hope of progression.

The 26-year-old is one a trio of Danes who are a booking away from a suspension, ahead of the quarter-final’s amnesty. This fact cannot cloud his mind when challenges are required, especially with veteran replacement William Kvist sidelined with a punctured lung.

The former FC Copenhagen man has registered his nation’s joint-second-highest tackles per game of two. Plus, he leads the way with 1.7 interceptions and 2.7 fouls per match.

Impressive statistics that must be extended against Modric and Rakitic.

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Christian Eriksen against Luka Modric is a fight to relish plus other Denmark v Croatia key battles

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Croatia will look to build on the momentum earned from a perfect Group D campaign when they battle Christian Eriksen’s unbeaten Denmark in World Cup 2018’s round of 16.

Zlatko Dalic’s men historically won all three matches, including a 3-0 humiliation of Lionel Messi and Argentina, to reinforce their status as dark horses for the title.

This will be tested by ‘Danish Dynamite’. They proved in the competition’s only goalless draw, against France, that the Croats cannot expect a walkover at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium on Sunday.

Here are the key battles:

LUKA MODRIC V CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN

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Real Madrid schemer Modric has a legitimate shout to be classed as the player of this World Cup.

The refined 32-year-old struck a penalty in the opening 2-0 defeat of Nigeria and fired home a fizzed effort in the rout of Argentina.

Knockout competition has brought out the best in him with Los Blancos and he must now do the same again with his country.

Few players are more central to the success of their nations than Eriksen.

The Tottenham playmaker lashed in one of the goals of the tournament against Australia, plus previously teed up Yussuf Poulsen for the winner versus Peru.

If the current Tottenham hero can outshine the club’s previous conductor, Modric, then Denmark can hold hope of just a second-ever quarter-final berth.

MARIO MANDZUKIC V SIMON KJAER

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Juventus front man Mandzukic provides a handful for any centre-back in Russia, but he’s yet to trouble the scorers.

The angular 32-year-old runs all day and fights for every ball. He’ll be disappointed that this hasn’t translated into any goals, with his profligate display against Argentina one to particularly rue.

A pitch battle with Sevilla centre-back Simon Kjaer should be explosive.

Denmark’s captain is the cement that holds their defence together.

Kjaer is a seasoned campaigner, moving past the 80-cap mark in Russia. His dogged traits saw him relish the competition provided by France target man Olivier Giroud, although his average of one tackle per game is only Denmark’s joint-seventh best.

Denmark kept clean sheets in two out of their three Group C fixtures. More of the same is a necessity.

IVAN PERISIC V PIONE SISTO

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Few sights in football are more feared by full-backs than Perisic receiving the ball with space to run into.

The Internazionale winger glides across the turf at pace and is eminently capable of lashing home, as against Iceland. A return of one accurate cross from nine attempts is disappointing and should soon improve.

Concentration will be key if Denmark right-back Henrik Dalsgaard is to shut out Perisic’s threat.

The World Cup is yet to see the best of Celta Vigo winger Sisto.

A return of nine assists and five goals showed his ability in La Liga last term. But in Russia, there’s been none of either and only one smart pass that sparked Poulsen’s goal against Peru.

This talent should flicker into life at some point. His average of 3.7 dribbles per game points to the danger posed.

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