Croatia set up a World Cup quarter-final against hosts Russia as penalty shootout heroics from goalkeeper Danijel Subasic as well as a winning spot-kick from Ivan Rakitic booked their place in the last eight.
Croatia ran out winners after the scores remained at 1-1 following normal time and extra-time in Nizhny Novgorod.
The game had started explosively with two goals in the opening four minutes, the first when Martin Jorgensen bundled the ball home, before Mario Mandzukic mishit a shot into the corner to equalize.
The teams remained locked at 1-1 during normal time and throughout extra-time, although it looked as if Croatia would snatch the win when they were awarded a penalty four minutes from the end, but Kasper Schmeichel saved from Luka Modric.
That set the stage for a penalty shootout in which Croatia prevailed 3-2.
Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, whose father Peter was cheering on from the stands, was unable to repel the final penalty from Barcelona’s Rakitic, despite saving two previous efforts in the shootout as well as the one from Modric in the dying minutes of extra time.
Croatia 'keeper Danijel Subasic’s contribution to the shootout was immense, saving efforts from Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schone and Nicolai Jorgensen – the latter of which allowed Rakitic the opportunity for the winning penalty.
As for the game itself, the majority of the drama was bookmarked at either end of it. The tie between two sides unbeaten so far at Russia 2018 sparked into life early at Nizhny Novogrod Stadium with a goal for each within the first four minutes.
Martin Jorgensen gave Denmark the perfect start, bundling the ball over the line following a long throw from the left, before Mario Mandzuckic leveled the match barely two minutes later.
It was the first time in World Cup history that each team had found the net at such an early stage of the game, a statistic which suggested that we might have been in store for a free-scoring classic.
The reality was much, much different. The whirlwind start soon subsided to a slower, more technical rhythm with Modric the heartbeat of a talented midfield. Rebic too was causing problems down the Danish right, as Ipswich Town’s Jonas Knudsen appeared to struggle to adapt to Croatian creativity.
Knudsen could have been responsible for conceding a penalty in the 20th minute but the referee adjudged his tussle with Mandzuckic inside the box to be fair game. Perisic was becoming a growing influence and was tasked with supplying crosses to the towering Juventus striker but the combined efforts of Danish captain Simon Kjaer and Schmeichel kept the Croats at bay.
Perhaps sensing that they were being overrun on the flanks, Denmark opted to play deeper as the first half wore on, though this restricted Eriksen’s impact on proceedings. The Tottenham man did come to life on the half hour however, sliding a delicate ball to Braithwaite who was unable to tease it past the onrushing Subasic.
The second half took much the same shape as the first. Both sides were content to play at a canter and with Croatia’s early verve now absent. Coach Zlatko Dalic brought Mateo Kovacic on and Real Madrid man upped the tempo considerably, earning a standing ovation from the crowd for one particularly impressive backheel.
It soon became apparent that this match was prophesied to go to extra time and it was only then that Denmark began looking the more likely to conjure an opening. Knudsen long throws were causing huge problems a Croatian backline running on fumes.
It would be the 115th minute before the game’s first real talking point since the opening four, when Kramaric was taken down inside the box after rounding ‘keeper Schmeichel following a precise through-ball from Modric. With the empty goal at his mercy the forward was tackled from behind by Jorgensen, a clear foul which - stunningly - was only deemed worthy of a yellow card despite it impeding a clear goalscoring opportunity.
Luka Modric's miss confounded Croatian anxiety, with Schmeichel saving to his right.
When the Leicester City man saved the first in the ensuing shootout from Milan Badelj, it seemed for a moment that fate was backing the Danes but even those great Schmeichel goalkeeping genes were eclipsed by Subasic, whose three shootout saves were enough to guarantee Croatia’s place in the World Cup quarter finals.