Croatia would be favorites entering into their match against Denmark, but the term “favorite” means very little in the 2018 World Cup. Just a few hours before Modric and co. kicked off their match, Spain had fallen victim to the favorite tag—crashing out via penalties to an inferior Russia side. Like the Spain match, not even 120 minutes could separate Croatia and Denmark. Though contrary to the game in Moscow, neither side proved to be superior. Luka Modric once again started and captained the side, but was positioned in his more traditional “pure” right-sided central midfield role rather than the attacking-midfield position he has operated in for Croatia throughout the tournament. All the pre-match plotlines were focused on Christian Eriksen of Denmark and Modric. Rightly so, as the two players are the talisman for their national sides and both immense technicians and dictators of tempo. As the match unfolded, it was clear that both sides were far more than their talisman.
If you missed the first five minutes of the match, you would have missed both of the goals produced over the entirety of the 120 minutes played. The Danes had a clear plan—defend in a deep low block and allow guys like Modric and Brozovic to get on the ball within their own half. As soon as the ball penetrated within thirty-five to forty yards of their goal, Denmark took a step forward and hounded the opposition. Croatia tried to suck Denmark out and tempt them to press, but like many teams in this edition of the World Cup, they stuck to their game plan—slowing Croatia’s possession and forcing the tempo to their desire. Croatia struggled to develop any true rhythm. The midfield trio of Schone, Delaney, and Eriksen were particularly impressive. All three went step for step with the talented Croatian midfield and created dangerous opportunities. Delaney was a constant threat with his bursting runs through the midfield and his tireless engine.
Despite the plethora of midfield talent on display and disciplined tactics of Danish eleven—Modric’s talent shone brightest. The number ten completed 24 passes in the final third, double what any other player on the pitch was capable of producing. Modric completed three out of four dribbles and created the most chances (3) in the match. One such chance, was a defense splitting pass in the dying minutes of extra time which sent Rebic through on goal. Rebic rounded Schmeichel, but then was taken out before placing his shot in the open net. Modric assumed his role as penalty-taker, but Schmeichel gobbled up his shot and a shoot-out seemed inevitable.
Luka was not the only Madridista to feature and play well. Mateo Kovacic was brought on for Brozovic in the 71st minute and hardly put a foot wrong. The 24-year-old displayed his ball carrying ability by slicing through two Danish defenders and nearly injuring his shoulder “a la Salah” in the UCL final. He quite literally shrugged it off and imposed more of his game. Thirty-six touches in all, 91.7% passing accuracy on his 24 passes, and 1 key pass to tag along with his crucial tackle on Poulsen early into his cameo.
In the end, the dreaded penalty shoot-out held the fate of both sides World Cup destiny. Kasper Schmeichel earned the man of the match and was rightly feeling confident heading into the shoot-out. The keepers would steal the show with two saves each. Modric, despite missing earlier in the match, would step up again and this time bury his penalty. Rakitic would put the spear in Danish hearts as he blasted the final penalty into the back of the net sending the Croatians through to the quarter final against the host nation, Russia.