Croatia and Denmark go head to head in the World Cup Last 16 in the city of Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday, with both countries looking to progress and reach the quarter finals of the competition for the first time since 1998.
Recent Form & World Cup Record
Croatia qualified for the knockout rounds in style, one of just three teams alongside Uruguay and Belgium to win all three group games and finish with maximum points.
They were arguably the most convincing over the course of the first round, comfortably beating Nigeria and Argentina, before a heavily rotated team put in a surprisingly good performance against Iceland and snatched a late victory after dominating the game.
Croatia’s World Cup record in general has been mixed. After finishing third in their debut back in 1998, this is the first time they have been beyond the groups in the 20 years since, after falling to early exits in 2002, 2006 and 2014.
Denmark also reached the knockout rounds of this tournament unbeaten, but they were let off the hook by a missed Peruvian penalty in their first game and were less than convincing after being pegged back in a 1-1 draw against Australia in their next outing.
Ultimately, a thoroughly dull bore draw was enough to seal their place in the Last 16.
The Danes have typically had a reasonable World Cup record in years gone by, although they are hardly a nation that would be considered a regular on this stage. The cult ‘Danish Dynamite’ generation impressed en-route to the Last 16 in 1986, while there were further knockout appearances in 1998 (QF) and 2002 (L16). They went home early last time in 2010.
Head to Head
Croatia and Denmark have face each five times over the years, but not since a 2004 friendly that was won 2-1 by the former.
With two wins each and one draw, it is honours even, while the only time they have previously met a tournament was during Euro ’96 when Davor Suker famously lobbed Peter Schmeichel in a comfortable 3-0 win for Croatia.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic would be expected to make as many as nine changes from the side that won the final group game after resting most of his starters.
That means likely returns for Ivan Rakitic, Dejan Lovren, Mario Mandzukic, Sime Vrsaljko, Danijel Subasic and others, while defensive midfielder Milan Badelj has given the boss a selection headache after his match winning performance against Iceland.
Eight Croatian players, including Rakitic, Mandzukic and Vrsaljko are carrying yellow cards and would be suspended for the quarter final if they collect another here and Croatia get through.
Denmark coach Age Hareide may only tweak his lineup. Centre-back Mathias Jorgensen was added to the midfield for the France game for greater defensive solidity and it may be that the Huddersfield man keeps his place to limit the influence of Croatian maestro Luka Modric.
Nicolai Jorgensen is likely to return up front after being rested against France, while Yussuf Poulsen is available once more after serving a one-game suspension.
Thomas Delaney, Pione Sisto and the aforementioned Mathias Jorgensen are the Danish players still carrying yellow cards and in danger of suspension in a possible quarter final.
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Rakitic, Badelj; Rebic, Modric, Perisic; Mandzukic
Denmark (4-3-3): Schmeichel; Dalsgaard, Kjaer, Christensen, Larsen; Delaney, M.Jorgensen, Eriksen; Poulsen, N.Jorgensen, Sisto
Although Christian Eriksen can rival the Laudrup brothers as far as all-time Danish greats are concerned, this is not a Denmark team that compares with others they’ve had in years gone by.
There simply isn’t enough depth to support Eriksen, and Croatia, who are flush with talent and grit all over the field, should have far too much quality for this to be anything other than a convincing win in their favour.
Croatia 2-0 Denmark