Croatia v Denmark: Another Luka Modric Masterclass?by Gabriel Sutton / 30 June 2018, 13:07Tweet
"This was neither the A-team nor the B-team. This was Croatia, the team that won Group D."
Vedran Corluka clearly pities the fool who doubts the Vatreni, after they maintained their 100% record at Russia 2018 with a 2-1 win over Iceland – despite Zlatko Dalic’s decision to make eight changes.
Dalic has done a remarkable job since taking over with one qualifying group match to play – a 2-0 win over Ukraine that allowed them to beat Greece 4-1 in the play-offs. He is yet to take charge of a competitive Croatia match in which the outcome hasn’t been desirable (even the 0-0 second leg draw with Greece rubber-stamped qualification).
The 51-year-old appears to have the magic touch with this so-proclaimed golden generation, who have taken their nation to the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time since 1998.
Dalic though is not getting carried away:
“This is historic success, but if we lose on Sunday, we’ve done nothing. And we will regret it.”
Given the ruthless nature of this competition, he may be wise to pre-empt complacency. And he is not alone: for example, Gareth Southgate claimed he was disappointed with aspects of England’s performance in the 6-1 win over Panama, having said after the 2-1 win over Tunisia that he would have been proud of the display even if the winner hadn’t come.
For Dalic’s opposite number, Aage Hareide, complacency is not even an option. That is partly because of the opposition, on whom the Norwegian speaks highly:
"We look forward to the fight where we will meet the team that has been the best in the group stage. Croatia has perhaps played the best football of all teams."
Equally though, Denmark were fortunate to escape the group stages after three underwhelming performances.
Due to a combination of Peru and Australia’s wasteful finishing, Kasper Schmeichel’s top goalkeeping and two flashes of flair from Christian Eriksen, they amassed four points from a possible six.
Eriksen : “I do not consider myself to be worse than Luka Modric. He has won an incredible number of accolades. Of course, the team in Real Madrid has helped him, but he has played to a very high standard. He is the type of player you enjoy to challenge yourself against.“— RMadridHome (@RMadridHome_) June 29, 2018
That return set up a final group encounter in which they just needed a point to rubber-stamp qualification against a France side that just needed a point to secure top spot; unsurprisingly, it ended 0-0.
The big worry is that Denmark are too reliant on Eriksen. True, the Spurs maestro was able to play that key pass for Yusuff Poulson’s winner against Peru, then combine nicely with Nicolai Jorgensen to net against the Aussies, but he has not been a prominent influence on games due to the lack of creativity around him; Lasse Schone, for example, needs to try more inventive passes while Thomas Delaney has defensive tendencies.
By contrast, Croatia have the perfect blend: not only do they have the wonderful technical ability of regular Champions League winner Luka Modric, they also have penalty king Ivan Rakitic who is also capable of picking passes into wide areas and posing a threat going forward.
The duo are given the freedom to simultaneously play their natural game due to the timely rise of Marcelo Brozovic, who looks like the solution to the long-standing holding midfield dilemma.
13 of the last 14 teams to amass maximum points in a World Cup group have gone on to reach the quarter-final; nine have won their last-16 tie in 90 minutes. It would be naïve to bet against another victory for Dalic – who loves it when a plan comes together.
The Sack Race’s Prediction: 2-0 to Croatia with Ivan Rakitic to score first (43/1 BetVictor)