World Cup – Round of 16, July 1 2018
M Jorgensen (1)
It was far from a World Cup classic, but Croatia won’t mind, as they came out on top from a penalty shoot-out that eliminated Denmark and secured their spot in the quarter finals. Danijel Subasic was the hero for Croatia, saving three penalties before Ivan Rakitic dispatched the decisive spot-kick. Mathias Jorgensen had got the ball rolling in the first minute, when Croatia failed to deal with a long throw into the box. Mario Mandzukic responded almost immediately with an equaliser for Croatia, but this wasn’t a sign of what was to come, with chances on goal few and far between for the remainder of the contest. Luka Modric had a glorious chance to win the tie from the penalty spot in extra-time, but Kasper Schmeichel – who also made two saves in the shoot-out – ensured the contest wasn’t yet over. Croatia next face hosts Russia, who have suggested they shouldn’t be underestimated after sending 2010 winners Spain home.
21 / 7
SHOTS / ON TARGET
14 / 3
Passes / Accurate
5 / 0 / 0
Fouls / Yellow / Red
19 / 1 / 0
Croatia set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Marcelo Brozovic at the base of the midfield triangle and Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric just ahead. Of the two, Modric would generally sit further ahead than Rakitic, as Croatia would try to get the Real Madrid midfielder on the ball in advanced positions. Mario Mandzukic led the line, with support from Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic in wide areas.
Knowing their capability on the ball, Denmark tried to restrict the supply to Rakitic and Modric by remaining compact. Croatia responded by positioning Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren in deeper positions to try to encourage the Denmark line towards them.
If the Denmark line pushed up, there would be more space for a ball in behind their defensive line and/or more space beyond the first line of their press for Modric and Rakitic to receive. If the Denmark line chose not to push up and close down the Croatia defenders, one or two of Brozovic, Rakitic and Modric would drop in front of the first line to get on the ball and dictate play.
Croatia were direct in their approach but were particularly wasteful with their long passes forward. They didn’t take advantage of the quality they had in the middle of the pitch. With too many players on the top line at any one time and limited movement, the only viable option they had was the long pass – which a well-organised Denmark defence had little trouble in defending.
They were at their most threatening when Modric got on the ball and attempted to thread passes through the Denmark defence. In the second half and in extra-time, they often looked to attack through the wide areas and half-spaces. Ivan Strinic and Sime Vrsaljko increased their involvement, pushing the wide attackers inside and opening up spaces out wide to attack.
Out of possession, Croatia predominantly used a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Brozovic between the defensive and midfield lines, and Mandzukic leading the press centrally. They would often look to press high, but it would usually be Rakitic and Modric who would support Mandzukic, rather than Perisic and Rebic.
This encouraged Denmark to play wider and not through the middle, where Christian Eriksen would be. The distance between Mandzukic, Modric and Rakitic and the rest of the Croatia team was often too large – a better team would have been able to play through with relative ease. Fortunately for Croatia, Denmark were reluctant to take the risk.
Denmark set up in a 4-2-3-1 in possession, with Thomas Delaney and Andreas Christensen operating as the deep central midfielders. Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen supported Andreas Cornelius from wide areas, while Christian Eriksen played in the number 10 position.
They had two main strategies in building their attacks, and both were based around direct play. One was to send the ball long for either Cornelius, Braithwaite or Poulsen to run in behind; the other was to send the ball directly to Cornelius, with Eriksen dropping a few yards deeper to look to receive the knockdown and create from a more advanced position.
Eriksen, however, rarely got on the ball in deeper positions – had the Tottenham Hotspur playmaker been able to display his precise passing quality more often, Denmark could have utilised their effective direct play much better.
Their other key weapon was Ipswich left-back Jonas Knudsen’s long throw, which led directly to the goal with which they took the lead in the opening minute of the game. Croatia couldn’t deal with Knudsen’s delivery, and in the ensuing scramble Huddersfield defender Mathias Jorgensen smashed the ball home.
Denmark looked to have more control of the game when they started dropping their attacking players into areas between the lines. This opened up passing options, but more importantly it dragged the Croatia players away from their compact shape, creating spaces in behind and between the units to try and penetrate.
Out of possession, Denmark operated in a 4-4-2 formation, with Eriksen joining Cornelius in a front two. The main aim here was to encourage Croatia to play long passes and restrict the supply into Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric.
They were reluctant to press too high, however, knowing that Croatia would have the quality to play around them. The Danes therefore allowed Croatia to bring the ball towards the centre circle before applying any pressure.
The area between Denmark’s units was very compact, which made it difficult for Modric in particular to receive between the lines. This again encouraged a longer pass, and Denmark were confident in dealing with these balls – even with the powerful Mandzukic as their opponents’ target man.