Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic saluted skipper Luka Modric after he shook off the disappointment of missing an extra-time penalty to help his side seal a shoot-out victory over Denmark.
The Real Madrid midfielder failed from 12 yards with the sides locked together at 1-1 after 120 minutes in their last-16 clash in Nizhny Novgorod, but converted from the spot at the second time of asking as goalkeeper Danijel Subasic saved three Danish penalties to lay the foundation for a 3-2 win.
Speaking at his post-match press conference, Dalic said: “He took the responsibility as a true captain. He scored and it speaks volumes about Luka.
“He said he wanted to take one in the penalty shoot-out – can you imagine what would have happened had he not scored? This shows the qualities of a great player and Luka is a great player.”
If it was Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic who ultimately sent Croatia through with his side’s fifth spot-kick, it was Subasic who was the hero after saving from Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schone and Nicolai Jorgensen to book a quarter-final showdown with hosts Russia.
Dalic said: “He was our hero tonight. He saved three penalties in the penalty shoot-out – you don’t see that every day. He pulled us out when we needed it most.”
Mathias Jorgensen’s first-minute opener handed the Danes the perfect start, but the lead lasted just three minutes as Mario Mandzukic levelled.
However, despite the early promise, the game failed to deliver as Denmark spiked the Croatian guns for long periods, although Modric should have won it after Mathias Jorgensen felled Ante Rebic inside the box in the 116th minute.
But Modric saw his penalty saved by Kasper Schmeichel, much to the delight of his father Peter watching on in the crowd.
Dalic admitted his team was far from at its best, but praised the fighting spirit of his players and warned them that will need to be just as resilient against the Russians.
He said: “This is going to be a huge match. We cannot relax, we must be even stronger and more stable because we are going to play a very difficult opponent, a great opponent.
“We will not let our guard down, there can be no arrogance going forward. We are happy with what we have achieved, but we know we have to do more.”
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Luka Modric has been one of the standout players at the World Cup, and the Croatian midfielder was at it again on Sunday as he guided his side to a tense victory over Denmark, with a penalty shootout needed to separate the two sides.
He could have put the game to bed prior to the shootout had he scored a penalty in extra time, but that was the only time he put a foot wrong as he dictated proceedings from the middle of the park.
Here’s a closer look at Modric’s performance.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 2
Pass Accuracy – 83%
Key Passes – 5
Dribbles – 3
Modric has found another gear at the World Cup and it was on display again on Sunday. His copy-book was blotted by a missed penalty in extra time that would almost certainly have won the game, but other than that, he barely put a foot wrong, and he redeemed himself in any case by converting in the shootout.
Passing – Modric has a well-established reputation as one of the best passers in the world, and that was on show again at Nizhny Novgorod. He was constantly setting up his teammates in strong positions.
Command – The Croat’s passing is sensational but what truly sets him apart is the way he controls the game from midfield. Through his passing and movement, Modric made it clear that he was the one running the show.
His penalty miss in extra time was looking like one of those fateful moments the game often throws up. With a win riding on the outcome, there’s no one Croatia would rather have stepping up to the spot, but this was one of those rare occasions Modric let them down. Thankfully, he’d redeem himself by scoring in the shootout.
Modric is arguably the most complete player in the game at the moment, and it shows in displays like this. Missed penalty aside, the Real Madrid man put on a clinic of how the midfield position should be played. His passing, vision, movement, and game management were all superb. Right now, Modric has to be a frontrunner for player of the tournament.
RATING – 7/10
Switzerland and Sweden meet each other for the first time in a major tournament on Tuesday as they go head-to-head in the round of 16 at the World Cup.
Vladimir Petkovic will be forced into a couple of changes to his Swiss side as Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar are both suspended. Michael Lang and Johan Djourou are set to be drafted in as replacements.
Sebastian Larsson meanwhile, is certain to miss out for Sweden after being stretchered off against Mexico while he would be suspended as well anyway.
PIVOTAL SWISS DUO
Given the exploits of Russia, Mexico and Croatia at this World Cup, Switzerland have somewhat flown under the radar as dark horses despite their impressive progress in the tournament so far. Two players have been absolutely key to their structure during it all. Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami as the double pivot in midfield has held this Swiss side together.
The latter is the one tasked with dropping in between the two centre-backs as the full-backs push up, affording Switzerland a numerical advantage over the opposition’s attackers, making it easy for them to play out from the back. Meanwhile, Xhaka shows for the ball and is the primary recipient of the ball out from defence. From there, they can begin to build an attack.
The Arsenal midfielder has been accomplished in possession, averaging 84.3 passes per game while maintaining a success rate of 90.5 per cent. He poses a goal threat as well as evidenced by his sublime strike against Serbia.
Switzerland haven’t been the most exhilarating team to watch in Russia but with Behrami and Xhaka in their engine room, they’ve proved to be a formidable force.
Much was made about the possibility of the iconic though aging Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming out of international retirement to take part at the World Cup but after initially fuelling speculation, the Swede decided against the move. While several fans would’ve been excited by the prospect of the former Manchester United striker making at appearance in Russia, it worked out for the best.
The 36-year-old hadn’t kicked a ball during qualifying and his inclusion for the tournament wouldn’t have gone down well with the players who toiled to secure Sweden’s spot on the world’s stage.
The team has excelled during this campaign in his absence, with a dramatic turn of events in the final group game leading to them finishing as winners over Germany, South Korea and Mexico. The Swedes’ play hasn’t been easy on the eye but they’ve managed to remain solid as a unit and take their chances at the other end.
They’ve no doubt been fuelled by a strong spirit within the squad as well, ably led by an inspirational Andreas Granqvist who’s been a rock in defence. Despite their shortcomings in terms of creativity, their work ethic and discipline in defence, has made them difficult to play against, something Sven Goran Eriksson as alluded to.
“I know that everyone wants to avoid Brazil, and maybe rightly, but I think it is easier to score against Brazil than against Sweden.
“Sweden are not playing the best football in the world, but to score against them is very difficult.”
It’s been three years since Breel Embolo was dubbed Switzerland’s wonderkid and while he hasn’t quite realised his potential since, glimpses of his much raved about talent has featured at this World Cup. He had a particularly lively display when he was afforded his first start of the tournament against Costa Rica.
Only Shaqiri made more key passes than the 21-year-old in that encounter while no Swiss player won more aerial duels or completed more dribbles. Meanwhile, he made an immediate impact as he assisted Blerim Dzemaili for the opener. With Steven Zuber still a doubt through illness, Embolo can expect to retain his place on the left wing.
The youngster has looked bright even off the bench in the opening two games and should come into this fixture with plenty of confidence. While Zuber brings much to the table with his high-pressing and ability to pick out a pass, Embolo’s introduction offers Switzerland a different kind of threat.
The pacey winger can help stretch the defence, generating more width and posing a threat in behind. Shaqiri often prefers to drift inside from where he can play passes through the middle or have a shot at goal and with Embolo largely staying wide, that should keep Switzerland from playing too narrow.