Nizhny Novgorod, June 30: In-form Croatia will be hot favourites against Denmark, who have looked lacklustre in the group stages, when the two sides clash in a World Cup pre-quarterfinal here on Sunday.
Croatia have won all their Group D matches, including a 3-0 hammering of Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Led by Real Madrid’s midfield lynchpin Luka Modric, Croatia also defeated Nigeria and Iceland to top Group D.
The pre-quarter-final will be played at the same venue where the Croats thumped Argentina.
This time, Croatia have an experienced squad, a strong generation to at least match their best-ever finish of a third place which happened in 1998 World Cup.
“I was nine-years-old. I remember my mum screaming in the house when we scored,” centra; defender Dejan Lovren was quoted as saying recalling Croatia’s 2-1 win over the Netherlands in 1998 that secured third place.
“We can beat that, definitely, but we need luck. We have a good opponent in the next round, it will be difficult,” said Lovren, who is expected to return to the starting XI. His fellow defenders are expected to be Domagoj Vida, Šime Vrsaljko, Ivan Strinic — all were rested during the game against Iceland. As will goalkeeper Danijel Subašic.
Croatia will once again depend on Modric, who has been in outstanding form, and fellow midfielder Ivan Rakitic to deliver the goods.
Modric scored a peach of a goal from distance against Argentina and along with FC Barcelona’s Rakitic, has been pulling the strings brilliantly for his national team.
The younger crop of Croatia players like Ante Rebic, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic have also rose to the occasion making them a threat.
Rebic, along with Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic may feature ahead of the midfield duo of Modric and Rakitic. Mario Mandzukic will lead Croatia’s attack.
Denmark, meanwhile, are happy to continue flying under the radar, buoyed by a 17-match unbeaten run. They have scored just two goals in three Group C games, finishing as runners-up, but will face their sternest test yet on Sunday.
They too are seeking to match their 1998 achievement when they reached the quarter-finals before being beaten by Brazil in what was their best World Cup showing.
Denmark coach, Age Hareide, wants his side to play more attacking football against Croatia and the team will rely heavily on key player Christian Eriksen for that.
“We know that we don’t seem like the most fearsome bunch to go up against,” midfielder Thomas Delaney was quoted as saying.
“We’re not going to lose 0-5 by trying to play tiki-taka football. But people shouldn’t get used to seeing us play like we did against France,” the Werder Bremen player added.
“It’s seldom that we play like this, and the game against Croatia will be a very different spectacle.”
Denmark have a strong defence with a centre-back pairing of captain Simon Kjaer, Andreas Cristensen and Mathias Jorgensen. In goal is Leicester City star Kasper Schmeichel.
The expected attacking options are Nicolai Jorgensen, Yussuf Polusen, Celta Vigo’s Pione Sisto and Eriksen, with the latter tasked with creativity. IANS