Denmark deserved to lose to Peru. And to Australia. And the less said about France the better.
But as is often the case in knockout football when the overwhelming favourites fail to perform, the minnows didn’t get their just desserts.
On penalties tonight, Croatia have dispatched Denmark from this year’s World Cup after being second best for long periods of the game.
It was proof again that football can be a cruel mistress. But in truth, neither team fully deserved to win this one in 120 minutes.
Schmeichel the starman
Once again for Denmark, goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was the star of the show.
He was solid when called into action, couldn’t really do anything about Croatia’s equaliser after four minutes after the ball had pinballed around the penalty area, and saved a penalty four minutes from the end of extra time to keep Denmark in the hunt.
When it came to penalties, he stopped two more, and on most nights that would have been enough, but Lasse Schone and particularly Nicolai Jorgensen were guilty of poor technique when it mattered most.
Looking on proudly was dad Peter, who was seemingly within range of old nemesis Davor Šuker – now that’s a rematch we’d all like to see.
Better in second half
Credit must also go to coach Åge Hareide for making a half-time tactical switch that saw Denmark’s full backs take up a far more advanced position, nullifying the threat of Croatia’s wide men in the process.
After taking a first minute lead through Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen, Denmark did little of note in the opening period, conceding 64 percent possession to the Croatians. Keeping it at 1-1 going into the break was quite an achievement, although Christian Eriksen did manage to clip the upright late on.
The second half was a different story, however, as Denmark started to carve out half-openings and chances. Martin Braithwaite was probably the most culpable in front of goal as several chances went begging, but it was not Eriksen’s best day either.
The new Stoke City
As the half wore on, Denmark’s biggest threat came from a player who plies his trade in England’s Championship: Ipswich Town full back Jonas Knudsen.
Known as the ‘New Rory Delap’, it had been his long throw that led to Jørgensen’s opener, and another missile caused similar panic around the 75-minute mark.
It was around about this time that a statistician pointed out that of the 22 crosses fired in that evening by both sides, only one had reached a team-mate.
To be fair, most neutrals weren’t impressed by the game, calling it a poor advert for what had been a great tournament until today’s games.
In the end, Denmark’s goalscorer was lucky to stay on the pitch. After a beautiful through ball from an otherwise disappointing Luka Modric, Ante Rebic rounded Schmeichel, only to be felled from behind with the goal gaping.
But Schmeichel then dived left to correctly anticipate Modric’s weak penalty.
How the Argentinian ref failed to find red is a mystery (apparently new rules dictate that reds should not be issued if the tackler is judged to have tried to play the ball!), but otherwise he had an excellent game.
Alas, the same could not be said for Croatia or Denmark.