Croatia reached the last eight for the second time, but for hosts Russia the achievement is even bigger.
According to SkySports, World Cup day 18 saw hosts Russia shock 2010 world champions Spain while Croatia also managed to scrape a win against Denmark. Both games finished as 1-1 draws, with all the goals scored in the first halves of the games. Both matches went first to extra time, and when the deadlocks weren’t broken even during that, the two games went to penalties.
Here are some talking points from the extraordinary day.
Soft goals were the order of the day
Perhaps the most underwhelming day at the World Cup so far in terms of the quality of football, day 18, in Russia saw some very soft goals being conceded. In total, four goals were scored across the two games, with each team involved yesterday scoring one goal apiece. The first goal of the day was scored by Spain against Russia, but it was more down to Russian player Ignashevich’s blunder than Spanish innovation. Ignashevich paid more attention to trying to bundle down Sergio Ramos than looking at the ball, leading to a terrible touch which saw the ball ricochet off his feet and into the top corner. The goal scored by Russia was a penalty, but it was also a result of poor defending, rather than great attacking play. Pique handled the ball blatantly, leading the referee no option but to point to the spot.
The second match of the day, Croatia vs Denmark, witnessed a blundering and frenetic start but then the rest of the two hours made up for the amazing start with some pretty woeful stuff. Both goals came in under the first four minutes, and if Denmark’s goal was lucky, Croatia’s equalizer three minutes later was a series of fortunate events.
In all, it was a poor day of outfield play in Russia.
So now that the attackers in all four teams decided it was not a good day to score goals, it was natural that this World Cup slowly inched towards its first knockout games to be decided on penalties. In fairness, that seemed to be Russia’s game-plan all along, considering they would hardly be able to live up with the tiki-taka style of Spanish football even if they tried. It worked wonders, and while no one gave Russia a chance before their game against Spain, the Russians defied all odds by reaching their first quarter-final in World Cup history.
Unlike Russia vs. Spain, though, the second game pitted two teams of similar caliber against each other in Denmark and Croatia, but it was as monotonous a game of football as has been seen this World Cup. It all burst to life, however, in extra time when Croatia was awarded a penalty, but Read Madrid wonder-boy Luka Modric saw his penalty saved. The game then went on to be decided on penalties, the end of which saw Croatia qualify for the quarter-final stage for only the second time in their history.
Goalkeepers the heroes of the day
Now that it came down to penalties, goalkeepers of all four teams rose to the forefront. Who could mark their names in the history books by being the one to defy the opposition?
As it turned out, the hero for Russia was its captain Igor Akinfeev. While Spanish keeper David de Gea was definitely the more talented keeper among the two, and therefore the one who was expected to make the saves. The Manchester United keeper failed to stop a single shot from Russian players, while Akinfeev saved the last and most crucial penalty, leading his team to dreamlike euphoria.
The other match witnessed even more drama. Here, Croatian keeper Danijel Subasic, as well as Denmark’s goalie Kasper Schmeichel, seemed to be in an imperious mood. The latter, having already saved a penalty during extra-time, seemed impossible to breach at times, but it was Subasic who emerged the final winner.
With two goals saved from four shots each, it was sudden death for both teams. Denmark’s Jorgensen had a huge responsibility on his shoulder, but his drive was stopped by Subasic, making him only the second keeper after Portugal’s Ricardo to make three saves out of five penalty kicks at a World Cup. All eyes turned on Barcelona and Croatia forward Rakitic, but he cooly disposed of past Schmeichel to lead Croatia into delirium.
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