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Croatia edges Denmark in penalty shootout to reach quarter-finals

Russia also beats Spain on penalties to reach World Cup quarters

By Thomson Reuters Foundation - Jul 02,2018 - Last updated at Jul 02,2018

Croatia’s goalkeeper Danijel Subasic stops the ball in the penalty shootout during the 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match between Croatia and Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday (AFP photo by Jewel Samad)

Croatia came back after conceding in the opening minute to earn a World Cup quarter-final berth after edging Denmark 3-2 in a penalty shootout after the two sides drew 1-1 in the round of 16 match on Sunday.

They could have wrapped up the result five minutes from the end of extra time, but Luka Modric had his penalty saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

However, the Croatia captain returned to bravely take one of the post-match kicks as goalkeeper Danijel Subasic save three of Denmark's efforts to set up a quarter-final meeting with Russia on Saturday.

It was Modric's sublime pass that put Ante Rebic through on goal, before being brought down by Mathias Jorgensen, and offered Croatia a chance to win just before the lottery of the shootout. But Schmeichel made a smart save to keep the 1-1 stalemate intact through two hours of at times pedestrian football.

Two chaotic goals in the opening four minutes made for a rollicking start at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium. However, it proved a false dawn as the spectacle faded with both sides choosing caution as its priority given the rare chance to reach the last eight at a World Cup.

Jorgensen took all of 57 seconds to breach the Croatia defence at the end of a long throw-in by Jonas Knudsen, stabbing at the ball with his left foot as he took it off teammate Thomas Delaney.

Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic got a hand to Jorgensen's toe-poke but effectively deflected the ball across his own line.

There was an element of comedy to the fourth-minute equaliser for Mario Mandzukic as Denmark's early advantage quickly disappeared.

A kick across the Danish defence was firmly hit away by Henrik Dalsgaard, but straight into the face of team mate Andreas Christensen, creating a pinball effect that saw the ball fall for Mandzukic, who then expertly turned it into the net from close range.

The anticipated influence of Christian Eriksen for the Danes and Croatia's Modric held out hopes of more mouth-watering action but their craft was only evident in patches.

Eriksen did shave the top of the woodwork just before halftime with a speculative effort while, at the other end, Ivan Rakitic forced a smart save from Schmeichel.

After the interval, the chances were even more sparse although Croatia did up the tempo towards the end of regulation time only to run into a resolute Denmark defence.

In extra time, Knudsen's long throws proved the most dangerous attacking weapon but eventually it was penalties that delivered a winner. 

The Host Russia beat Spain 4-3 on penalties thanks to two saves by its goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev on Sunday to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals where they will face either Croatia.

Akinfeev saved Koke's and Iago Aspas' spot kicks after both teams had scored two apiece in what was Russia's first ever World Cup penalty shootout, to send his team to the last eight after a lacklustre 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.

But there was high drama in the shootout for the 78,000 spectators at Luzhniki Stadium, with all four Russian penalty-takers keeping their cool and Akinfeev saving Aspas' spot kick with his foot to trigger wild celebrations.

"In the second half, we were trying to defend. We were hoping for penalties and that's what happened, thank God," Akinfeev said. "We are having a fantastic World Cup."

Spain, which has never beaten a host at World Cups or Euros, went ahead after 12 minutes when 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich bundled into Spain captain Sergio Ramos at the far post, knocking a free kick in with his heel for the 10th own goal of the tournament.

The 2010 world champion controlled the game with its slick passing but failed to add to its lead as the Russian's defended with discipline.

The game lacked pace and tempo even after the break with both teams cautious not concede too much space and the Russians playing without an out-and-out striker after the substitution of Dzyuba.

Akinfeev came to the rescue again to deny Rodrigo after his fine sprint in the second half of extra time before becoming a national hero by saving the two spot kicks to send the hosts past the former world champions.

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