Subašić finally trumps Schmeichel as Croatia finally trump Denmark

Croatia entered their clash with Denmark on a high. Having won all three of their group stage matches at a canter, they had slotted into the easy side of the draw. With plenty of quality and a relatively simple path to the final made easier by Russia’s upset win over Spain hours earlier, Croatia had reason to be confident. Denmark, whose progress to the round of 16 was solid rather than spectacular, were expected to provide a test, but the Croatians seemed good enough to progress without too much trouble. Eventually, they did progress – with the last penalty of a drama-filled shootout.

Denmark couldn’t have started better. Just 58 seconds after kick-off, the ball was in the back of the net, courtesy of a long throw-in. Jonas Knudsen hurled the ball a remarkable distance after Denmark won the throw on the right, and the Croatians didn’t know what to do. The ball slipped over the back to Mathias Jørgensen, whose hastily scrambled shot rebounded off Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subašić and the post before going in. A team with star players from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Liverpool and Atlético Madrid had been undone by a remarkably long heave from Ipswich Town’s left-back. It wasn’t the prettiest way to score a goal, but the throw was a brutally effective means of breaking down Croatia’s defence.

Denmark’s lead didn’t last long. To be precise, it lasted all of one minute and 52 seconds. Šime Vrsaljko found space on the right, and played a fairly routine ball into the box. It should have been cleared easily by Henrik Dalsgaard, who found the ball at his feet with no opponents around. Instead, he firmly planted the ball into the face of teammate Andreas Christensen, and the ball bounced kindly for Mario Mandžukić in the box. The big striker had little problem putting the chance away from close range, and suddenly the game was back on level terms. In less than four minutes, both sides had scored, and the frenetic beginning suggested that an exciting match was in the offing.

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Mario Mandžukić (front) and Mathias Jørgensen battle for the ball in the air. Both men scored their team’s only goals, both of which came in the opening five minutes of the match.

Then neither side scored for the rest of the match. Unsurprisingly, things started to settle down after the frenetic beginning. Croatia seemed to take control of possession, and they began to find the better chances. Ante Rebić was fouled on the edge of the area, but Ivan Perišić’s free-kick was drilled into the wall and away for a corner. Perišić’s dangerous cross caused more problems for Denmark as Knudsen and Mandžukić tussled in the box and the striker appealed for a penalty. Néstor Pitana, the intense-looking Argentinian referee, was unmoved, telling Mandžukić in no uncertain terms that he had not been fouled and that he should get up. Rebić forced Kasper Schmeichel to parry his shot from close range, and Perišić bungled a golden opportunity when his second-chance shot thudded harmlessly into the turf and didn’t even reach the six-yard box. Dejan Lovren connected with Luka Modrić’s free-kick, but his header didn’t have enough on it and it flew wide of its mark. As the game progressed, however, Croatia’s opportunities began to dry up against Denmark’s well-drilled defence.

Denmark had some opportunities, particularly in the second half, but they didn’t have the clinical touch in attack to trouble Croatia. Martin Braithwaite had – and missed – most of their best chances. Early on, he went one-on-one with Subašić, but the Croatian keeper saved his shot well. Then the ball kicked up into his face and trailed away for a goal-kick. Yussuf Poulsen created a chance for him in the centre, but Braithwaite blasted the shot a long way wide. Thomas Delaney ran straight through the heart of the Croatian defence, and then completed his seemingly endless run with a pass for Braithwaite. Braithwaite missed. There were other chances, like when Danish star Christian Eriksen hit the bar (it never really looked like testing Subašić) and when Nicolai Jørgensen forced Subašić into a save from a decent position, but Denmark weren’t really worrying the Croatians.

In the last 10 minutes of normal time, Croatia began to step up their game. Perišić headed the ball onto the roof of the net, and Rebić made a couple of dangerous runs down the right after Perišić’s quickly-taken throw-in caught Denmark unawares and heralded a short period of goalmouth action. It passed, however, and there was no goal in the first 90 minutes. The Danish started extra time well, putting Croatia under pressure with a series of Knudsen’s gigantic throws and some good attacks. Domagoj Vida was a little hasty in coming out of position, and Denmark threatened as Eriksen perfectly threaded the ball through the gap he left in the defensive line. Knudsen won a corner with some good work down the left, and Denmark continued to threaten, but they couldn’t break through.

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Luka Modrić reacts with relief after scoring during the penalty shootout. Modrić had a golden opportunity to win it for Croatia in the final minutes of extra time, but Kasper Schmeichel managed to save his penalty.

Then Modrić began to get involved. Croatia’s star created a brilliant chance out of nothing with a beautiful ball for Andrej Kramarić, but Denmark survived as Schmeichel tapped a potentially dangerous cross over the bar. Then Modrić produced another moment of inspiration which seemingly confirmed Croatia’s victory. Upon receiving the ball in midfield, he threaded a delightful pass through the heart of the Danish defence, putting Rebić one-on-one with Schemichel. At pace, Rebić rounded Schmeichel on the edge of the box, and all that was left to do was slot the ball into an open net. He didn’t get the chance as Mathias Jørgensen slid in from behind, conceding the penalty and putting his further participation in the match in serious doubt. Mercifully, he was only booked by Pitana, but Modrić was almost certain to score. He didn’t. Schmeichel dived the right way and clutched the ball gratefully, and the game was destined for penalties. Schmeichel was brimming with confidence, and Denmark seemed to have the upper-hand as Eriksen stepped up to take the first kick of the shootout.

Enter Subašić. Eriksen’s penalty was saved by the Croatian goalkeeper, who flung himself the right way, diverted the ball into the post, and celebrated with understandable gusto. Croatia had the edge. Then Schmeichel, determined to match his counterpart, denied Milan Badelj with his feet. The teams were back level. Finally, with the fourth penalty taken in the match, Simon Kjær scored. He drilled an unstoppable shot into the top corner, and the goalkeepers’ desperate attempts to one-up each other proceeded to take the back seat as the shootout began to follow a more familiar pattern. Kramarić scored, and Schmeichel was warned for coming off his line before the kick was taken. Michael Krohn-Dehli scored. For once, Modrić looked unsure of himself, and nervous. He scored anyway, going straight down the middle and only just eluding Schmeichel’s feet before trotting away relieved.

Then Subašić made another save. Lasse Schöne took the kick, drilling it to the left and watching as it was emphatically parried by the diving goalkeeper. Once again, Croatia had the ascendency as Josip Pivarić prepared to take his penalty. Unfortunately for Croatia, anything Subašić could do, Schmeichel could seemingly do better. Pivarić took a long run up, taking a few sidesteps and running at the ball with some aggression. Schmeichel was unperturbed, and made the save. The battle of the two goalkeepers was back on, and the penalty-takers were becoming increasingly nervous. Subašić did it again. Brimming with confidence, he denied Nicolai Jørgensen with his feet. Croatia just needed to score to win, with Rakitić entrusted with the crucial kick. Unlike so many before him, he made no error. Relief washed over Croatia as they ensured they would not become the next highly-rated team to fall by the wayside, and booked a date with the hosts in Sochi. Their performance was shaky, and probably their worst of the tournament thus far, but it was a win. The fact that they’re still in the competition means that the drama, tension and the very late night was worth it.

Nizhny Novgorod – Nizhny Novgorod Stadium
Croatia 1 (Mandžukić 4)
Denmark 1 (M Jørgensen 1) (a.e.t, Croatia won 3-2 on penalties)
Referee: Néstor Pitana (Arg)
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subašić – Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinić (Pivarić 81); Rakitić, Brozović (Kovačić 71); Rebić, Modrić, Perišić (Kramarić 97); Mandžukić (Badelj 108).
Denmark (4-3-3): Schmeichel – Dalsgaard, Kjær, M Jørgensen, Knudsen; Christensen (Schöne 46), Delaney (Krohn-Dehli 98), Eriksen; Poulsen, Cornelius (N Jørgensen 66), Braithwaite (Sisto 106).

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Luka Modrić and Danijel Subašić celebrate after Croatia’s victory. Subašić played a key role in the shootout with three penalty saves.

Top 5
1. Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)
Schmeichel made all of the saves he had to in general play, and then went to a whole new level as the match was drawing to a close. He saved Modrić’s penalty to ensure the game went to a shootout, and he kept Denmark in the shootout by making a couple of excellent saves. At times, he looked unbeatable.
2. Danijel Subašić (Croatia)
Subašić had a quieter game than his opposite number, and then proceeded to win Croatia the game with his penalty shootout heroics. He made three saves from five Danish penalties, and his efforts were eventually enough for Croatia to come away with the win. He will take massive confidence from some of his penalty stops.
3. Ante Rebić (Croatia)
Rebić is having a brilliant individual tournament, and the dynamic winger continued to feature prominently with his all-action approach. Mathias Jørgensen’s foul from behind was all that stopped him from putting away a late winner, and he made a number of dangerous runs from both wings and through the middle.
4. Thomas Delaney (Denmark)
Delaney used his physicality to good effect, making his presence felt against Croatia’s star-studded midfield and providing an attacking threat with his dangerous forward runs. One such run took him well in the area, and his slightly inadvertent assist for Denmark’s only goal showed his attacking threat.
5. Ivan Rakitić (Croatia)
Rakitić showed his cool temperament when he calmly slotted the winning penalty, and he stood up to fill the void when Modrić had a quiet game (an event which may never occur again). He seemed to take on the majority of Croatia’s playmaking duties, and he created some decent opportunities with his excellent passing.

Denmark hold firm against desperate Peru

Christian Cueva stepped up to take the penalty just before half-time. Minutes before, he had been tripped in the box, and after play had continued for some time the video assistant referee brought it back and awarded the fairly obvious penalty. Now, on an emotional day for Peruvian football, he had a big chance to score Peru’s first World Cup goal for over 30 years as he started his run-up on the edge of the box. He paused a few paces into his approach, did a little stutter step upon resumption, and lifted the ball clean over the crossbar. The small section of Danish supporters in the Mordovia Arena gave a small cheer. The rest of the Peruvian-dominated Saransk crowd were in complete disbelief. In the dugout, coach Ricardo Gareca sat open-mouthed as he contemplated the opportunity his side had just passed up. In the match, Peru never got a better opportunity, and failed to score despite dominating territory and putting the Danish defence under siege.

The game started very openly. There were nervous moments early as the Danish looked to settle into the game, especially when Yussuf Poulsen came close to giving away a penalty with a rough looking challenge inside the area. The Peruvians had most of the early running, passing the ball well and giving Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel something to think about with a series of ambitious but powerful shots from long-range. The most ambitious shot came from right-back Luis Advíncula, who blazed away from ridiculous distance and ended up miles away from the target. Not so trivial was a perfect shot from André Carrillo, who cut in from the right wing and forced Schmeichel into making a diving save to keep it out of the bottom corner. Carrillo and Advíncula’s purposeful overlapping play created plenty of work for Andreas Christensen, with Carrillo drifting around and creating his fair share of problems.

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Luis Advíncula sings the Peruvian national anthem before the match. Peru had not appeared in the tournament for 36 years before their clash with the Danish.

The Danish seemed to be settling, but Peru still had the best opportunities and a diving lunge from Simon Kjær was all that prevented Jefferson Farfán from finding the back of the net when Carrillo played him through. Their consistent defence meant clear-cut chances like Farfán’s were few and far between, but Peru’s excellent structure meant they couldn’t muster any early threat in attack. For the first half hour, Denmark’s lone attempt on goal was Thomas Delaney’s ambitious and ultimately wild shot from distance. Star man Christian Eriksen couldn’t get into the game, and Denmark didn’t have the fluency to find the back of the net. Then, almost out of nowhere, Peru got their penalty. After Cueva’s miss, it was a rueful Peru and a relieved Denmark who left the field at half time.

Peru had another brilliant chance to score just after the break, when Cueva found himself in behind the Danish defence with plenty of space to work with. His ball across goal gave Carrillo a chance, but he bungled his first time shot and Edison Flores’ attempt to salvage his teammates’ mistake was just as poorly-hit and limped harmlessly over the goal line. Denmark took the lead a couple of minutes later. It came on the counter, with Eriksen finding some rare space to run at the Peruvian defence and his forwards making good runs in support. With the defenders caught between a rock and a hard place he threaded a pass to Poulsen, who slipped the ball past Pedro Gallese into the back of the net. It was a simple attacking move, but it caught out an undermanned Peruvian defence with brutal efficiency. Then, as if they’d been stung, Peru begun to attack with earnest. Soon they were pressing hard and dominating the game.

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André Carrillo runs with the ball during his brilliant performance on the right wing. Carrillo used his pace and skill to his advantage and caused plenty of trouble for the Danish defence.

First, Flores drilled a shot at Schmeichel, who stuck out his left glove to deny Peru once more. Then talismanic captain Paolo Guerrero was introduced, and Peru’s all-time leading goal-scorer tested Schmeichel with a strong header mere seconds after entering the fray. Miguel Trauco found Alberto Rodríguez in the box, and his header across goal came tantalisingly close to the outstretched legs of Farfán and Carrillo. A Carrillo cross managed to evade Schmeichel, and a goal was only averted by Poulsen’s headed clearance at the back post. Guerrero’s classy backheel shot caught Schmeichel off guard, and it only missed the goals by less than half a metre. Carrillo found space in the box once again and distributed to Farfán in a dangerous spot, but once again Schmeichel and Kjær were up to the challenge and combined to clear the ball to safety. Peru came from all angles, and the Danish were pushed back deeper and deeper.

Somehow, they weathered the storm. Peru’s chances came less frequently as the game went on, and Eriksen even managed to force Gallese into a one-on-one save in the dying moments. Denmark were still defending for their lives, but Peru’s clinical build-up play gave way to desperation, and then despair as the final whistle sounded. Their win, lucky as it may have been, puts them in the box seat to progress from Group C, and their remarkably resilient defensive showing bodes well for the road ahead. For Peru, there were plenty of positives, but they will be scant consolation for a scoreline which reads, some would say unjustly, Denmark 1, Peru 0.

Saransk – Mordovia Arena
Peru 0
Denmark 1 (Poulsen 58)
Referee: Bakary Gassama (Gam)
Peru (4-2-3-1): Gallese – Advíncula, Ramos, Rodríguez, Trauco; Tapia (Aquino 87), Yotún; Carrillo, Cueva, Flores (Guerrero 62); Farfán (Ruidíaz 85).
Denmark (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel – Dalsgaard, Kjær, Christensen (M Jørgensen 81), Larsen; Kvist (Schöne 36), Delaney; Poulsen, Eriksen, Sisto (Braithwaite 66); N Jørgensen.

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Kasper Schmeichel (in black) rises above all others to punch away a Peruvian cross. Schmeichel was in top form during Denmark’s win, keeping a clean sheet and making some crucial saves.

Top 5
1. André Carrillo (Peru)
Carrillo was everywhere. He played a bit on the right and a bit on the left, contributed to defence and attack with well-thought out interceptions and incisive pieces of offensive play. He combined well with Advíncula and Farfán, and he created most of Peru’s many chances with his pace and skill. He was in good touch, and could be a scary opponent to face.
2. Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)
If there’s one person Denmark can thank for their win, it’s Kasper Schmeichel. He showed all of his skills to deny Peru time and again, breaking the Danish record (held by father Peter) for most consecutive clean sheets in the process. He looked completely comfortable against the Peruvian attack, making plenty of excellent saves and ensuring Denmark held on to their lead.
3. Jefferson Farfán (Peru)
Farfán had plenty of pace and troubled the Danish defence with his very threatening runs in behind. He showed his experience through his excellent positioning, and gave Schmeichel a serious working-over with his skill with the ball at his feet. There were multiple occasions where he was unlucky not to score, and on another day he could have had a huge impact on the scoreboard.
4. Simon Kjær (Denmark)
The Danish captain was in the right spots all day, cutting off attack after attack with his excellent tackling and his brilliant leadership. He barely gave away any fouls, and he had good presence in the air. His hard work, shown in particular by a desperate goal line block late in the game, served him well against the dynamic Peruvians and will continue to do so.
5. Yussuf Poulsen (Denmark)
For good and bad, Poulsen found himself heavily involved in both attack and defence. He did plenty of good things going forward, recovering from giving away a potentially costly penalty (and nearly conceding another) by scoring the only goal of the game. His clearance when Schmeichel was evaded by a good cross prevented a Peruvian goal and showed the value of his defensive efforts.

Spurs push hard but can’t find a way

Georges-Kevin N’Koudou played a desperate cross into the box. It was the 96th minute, the scores were level and Tottenham Hotspur had one last roll of the dice left. The cross was a failure, but the rebound fell to left back Danny Rose, who was in a fairly strong position. He controlled the ball, took the shot, and could only watch as it hit the side of the goal. Bobby Madley blew his whistle, and it was all over, marking another disappointing draw for Spurs and adding to their ever-increasing list of missed opportunities.

Their opponents were Leicester City, the reigning champions who have not done a thing right this year. They have been crushed by Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, with no hint of the defensive steel which saw them capture the Premier League title against all odds. It was a game that Tottenham, yet to lose a Premier League match this season, were widely expected to win.

The game started slowly, but eventually Spurs began to take the upper hand. Slowly but surely the chances came, and Mauricio Pochettino’s side were soon well on top, almost without anyone realising. Leicester came close when Riyad Mahrez, one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League and a nightmare for opposing defenders, put the ball in for Shinji Okazaki. The resultant header was just over the bar.

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Under pressure: Son Heung-min (left) controls the ball with Christian Fuchs in pursuit.

Aside from that, Spurs were looking in control but struggling to find their touch in front of goal. New signing Vincent Janssen, the Dutchman touted as the next big thing after a record-breaking season with AZ Alkmaar, was part of the problem. He was described as skilful and strong. Instead, on this day he was an obstacle to his own team’s success, bumbling around as Son Heung-min, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli worked tirelessly to feed him. He was the lone elephant amongst a herd of gazelles.

Spurs started to find some more openings as the game went on, with Alli hitting the bar before Janssen gave his side the lead from the spot. Eriksen’s free kick was flicked on by Eric Dier to the big Dutchman, who fought against Robert Huth and Danny Drinkwater to control it. Huth was the culprit, first wrapping an arm around Janssen before throwing him to the ground. Madley didn’t have much of a choice but to award a penalty, and Janssen converted the kick with ease.

Leicester needed someone to step up, and that man was Jamie Vardy. In the lead up to this match Vardy had been a shadow of the player he was as Leicester won the Premier League, rarely contributing to the scoresheet and not really getting involved. In the first half, he had barely touched the ball, let alone done anything with it. Now, however, he stepped up, turning the game on its head with an excellent second half performance.

He started by rectifying the deficit. Victor Wanyama was the culprit for Spurs, leaving all wondering what was going through his head as he headed the ball past centre backs Dier and Jan Vertonghen towards his own goal. Vardy pounced. He used his pace to find some space in behind Dier, and with surgical precision he threaded his pass straight into the path of Ahmed Musa, who simply could not miss. The Nigerian injured himself as he tumbled into the back of the net, but the damage was done.

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Unstoppable: Ahmed Musa (right) puts the ball past Hugo Lloris into the back of the net.

Suddenly, Leicester were back in the game. Vardy had found his touch, and whenever he could get the ball at his feet he looked very dangerous. Spurs, on the other hand, were panicked and rushed. Eriksen was the calm at the centre of the storm, forcing a strong save from Kasper Schmeichel and setting up a great opportunity for Son with a well-executed free kick. He was a cool head amidst the crisis, but even he was struggling to find an opening.

Janssen had a couple of golden opportunities to put his side back in front, but he missed the target by inches with both attempts. Meanwhile, at the other end, Leicester were starting to retain the ball. Vardy was finding the ball and picking out dangerous passes, and soon the hunter had become the hunted. Spurs were forced to keep their opponents at bay as Leicester attacked with a combination of crosses and long throw-ins, and for once it looked as if Spurs had no hope of taking victory.

They had some chances as space began to open up, and Vertonghen came agonisingly close when his header hit the bar, but it was over. The final whistle signified the end of another disappointment for Spurs, another game which they should have won but didn’t. They remain the only undefeated team in the league, but if they are to win it they need to improve. Fast.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Janssen 44 pen)
Leicester City 1 (Musa 48)
Referee: Bobby Madley
Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris – Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama (Winks 87), Dembele; Eriksen, Alli (N’Koudou 83), Son; Janssen.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez (Albrighton 72), Drinkwater, King, Musa (Schlupp 68); Okazaki (Ulloa 78), Vardy.

Top 5
1. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
Eriksen was on top of his game, working his way into dangerous positions and creating plenty of issues for Leicester with his excellent delivery from set pieces. He was in control on the ball, and was a cut above the rest.
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
Vardy was almost non-existent in the first half, but his second half effort was enough to save the game for his team. He created a goal for Musa with his run in behind, and caused plenty of defensive problems for Spurs. He has been out of sorts lately, and he will take confidence from his second half performance.
3. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Rose was a key player in both attack and defence, pushing forward when necessary and finding plenty of good options when he received the ball. He was never beaten by Mahrez as the Algerian looked to weave past him on numerous occasions, and he tested his man with his willingness to push up the pitch.
4. Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Schmeichel denied Spurs on a number of occasions, and he was unlucky to concede the way he did. He was lucky at times but whenever he needed to make a save he did, showing excellent technique and rarely allowing his opponents a second bite of the cherry.
5. Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur)
Walker used his pace and ability to get forward to great effect, creating plenty of chances with his dangerous balls from the right wing and often beating Musa for pace as he looked for an opening. Defensively, he was solid, and he was rarely caught out, even when Leicester broke away with pace.