Croatia vs. Denmark
Sunday’s second matchup will be Group D winner Croatia and Group C runner-up Denmark.
Finally, a matchup that doesn’t focus on the attack! Croatia won all three of its matches to finish atop Group D in one of the biggest surprises of the tournament thus far. Their squad is headlined by an elite midfield presence in Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic. The fact that Kovacic, a Real Madrid player, comes off the bench should be VERY alarming for Denmark. But Croatia’s talent is not limited to the midfield. Mario Mandzukic is the sole attacker and Marko Pjaca provides some much-needed depth in attack.
All told, this is a very solid matchup for the Croatians. Even though Modric leads the team in goals, expect him to slip into a more defensive role against Christian Eriksen, the prominent midfielder for Denmark. Croatia has already proven it’s capable of limiting a high-profile attacker after its 3-0 thumping of Lionel Messi and Argentina. On paper, this is a match made in heaven for Croatia, seeing as they’re playing with an insane level of confidence and Denmark has looked just average. If Croatia can control the midfield and continue its sustained pressure on attack, expect nothing but smooth sailing to the quarterfinals.
For Denmark, this match will require a very similar strategy to its last match against France – prevent defense. I’m not about to say they weren’t trying to score, but it sure looked like they were playing for a draw. A good rule of thumb for this team is that as Eriksen goes, so does the team. While they aren’t as inept as I’m making them out to be, it will take heroic efforts from Eriksen, center back Andreas Christensen and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in order to knock off the hottest team at the World Cup.
Schmeichel is absolutely capable of standing on his head and making a boatload of saves if called upon, but Croatia’s attack is relentless. Furthermore, it’s hard to see a gameplay strategy that favors Denmark, who have scored only two goals so far. Schmeichel has kept them alive, but it’s hard to see Denmark reaching the quarterfinals.
Matchup to Watch – Andreas Christensen vs. Mario Mandzukic/Ivan Rakitic
Christensen is a reliable center back in Denmark’s scheme and has anchored the Danish defense so far. Denmark manager Aage Hareide went so far as to move him into a defensive midfield role against France. Should he continue in that role, his primary assignment will be attacking mid-Ivan Rakitic, while in his normal center back role it will be Mario Mandzukic.
In either scenario, Christensen must be effective at taking away a scoring option for Croatia in order to give his side a chance to grab a goal. The problem for the Danes is that even with taking away Rakitic/Mandzukic, Croatia still have plenty of options to exploit the rest of the Denmark defense.
Prediction – Croatia 3, Denmark 1
Croatia continues its strong play as Denmark struggles to contain Croatia’s relentless attack. Croatia’s midfield dominates the ball and produces two of three Croatia goals. Denmark puts forth a valiant effort as Schmeichel attempts to do his best Tim Howard impression. Eriksen grabs a goal for the Danes in garbage time but his side has too many defensive gaps to compete with Croatia.