After watching Russia and Spain require more than 90 minutes to determine their World Cup round-of-16 winner, Croatia and Denmark have followed suit. And it's Croatia who persevered, with Danijel Subasic outdueling Kasper Schmeichel in a goalkeeping clinic of a shootout, making three saves to his counterpart's two to send Croatia through 3-2 after a 1-1 draw. Croatia will play Russia in a quarterfinal match on July 7, with each side one step closer to glory after a nailbiting win.
A wild opening, in which both teams scored in the opening four minutes, gave way to a more cagey match that went the full 120 minutes without another breakthrough. In the second half of the extra period, Schmeichel came up huge, denying Luka Modric's penalty kick to keep the game level and send it to spot kicks.
In the shootout, both sides missed their opening kicks, when Subasic saved from Christian Eriksen, only for Schmeichel to come up with a kick save on Milan Badelj. Simon Kjaer got Denmark on the board with a confident finish, but Andrej Kramaric answered with one of his own.
Michael Krohn-Dehli restored Denmark's edge on its third kick, only for Modric to bounce back from his earlier miss to roll one down the middle and make it 2-2 after three rounds.
It was Subasic who came up big in the fourth round, denying Lasse Schone with a flying save to his right to give Croatia the chance to go ahead. Schmeichel had the answer, though, making a big save of his own and going to his right to stop Josip Pivaric's chance.
Subasic made his third save of the shootout to deny Nicolai Jorgensen, setting the stage for Ivan Rakitic to be the hero, and the Barcelona hero obliged, tucking a low roller into the left side, while Schmeichel went the other way.
You can watch the shootout in full here:
The drama was an appropriate bookend considering how the match started. Denmark struck first after 57 seconds. A long throw-in fell for Mathias Jorgensen by the far post, and he squeezed his left-footed chance through traffic for the first international goal of his career to cement a dream start for the Danes. It marked the fourth-fastest goal in World Cup history and the quickest since four years ago, when Clint Dempsey scored 29 seconds into the USA's opening match vs. Ghana.
That dream start lasted all of three minutes. A Denmark clearance attempt from its own area bounced off a defender, right into the path of Mario Mandzukic. The Juventus striker made good on the gift, finishing from close range to make it 1-1 after four minutes.
The match settled down from there into what most expected: a match in which Croatia had the better of the ball, but Denmark resisted with its organized defense. Croatia's best chance came on an Ivan Perisic free kick from 19 yards, but it was one that was blasted right into the wall.
Denmark picked its spots and nearly picked off the go-ahead goal in the 27th minute through Martin Braithwaite, who was played into the box on the right side and had a near-post chance snuffed out by Subasic.
On the other end, Croatia nearly struck twice. Rakitic took a blast from over 20 yards that Schmeichel parried away, but Croatia kept the ball alive, and after a second parry, Perisic wound up with a chance to score from inside the box and Schmeichel off his line, only to blast his opportunity well over the bar.
The sparring continued between the two sides, with neither really being able to carve out a serious threat. Schmeichel was called into light action on a couple of occasions over the second half, but Croatia lacked the unpredictability or creativity to break down Denmark's organization.
As extra time beckoned, Rakitic nearly broke through for the winner. He had the time and space from 25 yards out to take a hit, and he tried to pick out the lower left corner. Schmeichel may have had it covered, but the shot went wide of the post anyway.
On the other end, Braithwaite had the chance for a spectacular winner after a punch away from Subasic. The ball fell to the Denmark midfielder at the edge of the box, and he attempted to volley the looping clearance, only to hit it a yard or so wide of the far post. That was the final action of regulation, as the match was sent to extra time.
The with the opening goal, it was a long throw-in that caused a moment of drama in the 96th minute, with Denmark appearing to have an opportunity only for the ball to skirt through the area untouched by an attacker.
Pione Sisto came off the bench for Denmark for the second period of extra time and made an immediate impact, delivering one pass that threatened to unlock Croatia's rearguard and then rifling in a long-range attempt that just missed the far post in the 107th minute.
Croatia got the game-breaking moment it needed in the 114th minute. Modric split the defense with a pass through the center, playing Ante Rebic in on goal. After rounding Schmeichel, Rebic was taken down from behind by Jorgensen while facing an empty net. He couldn't get the shot off, but was granted the penalty. When it appeared Croatia would take the lead, Schmeichel came up huge, denying Modric's penalty and making a clean save that didn't yield a rebound.
That set the stage for spot kicks, where Schmeichel was tremendous, making two saves, only to be outdone by Subasic's three saves.
Here were the lineups for both teams:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
Goalkeepers: Lovre Kalinic (Dinamo Zagreb), Dominik Livakovic (Gent), Danijel Subasic (Monaco)
Defenders: Duje Caleta-Car (Red Bull Salzburg); Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Josip Pivaric (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Strinic (AC Milan), Domagoj Vida (Besiktas), Sime Vrsajlko (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Filip Bradaric (Rijeka), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter), Mateo Kovacic (Real Madrid), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
Forwards: Nikola Kalinic (Milan), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim), Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan), Marko Pjaca (Juventus), Ante Rebic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Manager: Zlatko Dalic
Goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester), Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield), Frederik Ronow (Brondby)
Defenders: Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Simon Kjaer (Sevilla), Mathias Jorgensen (Huddersfield), Jannik Vestergaard (Borussia Monchengladbach), Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford), Jens Stryger (Udinese), Jonas Knudsen (Ipswich)
Midfielders: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Lasse Schone (Ajax), Lukas Lerager (Bordeaux), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Deportivo La Coruna), William Kvist (FC Copenhagen), Thomas Delaney (Werder Bremen)
Forwards: Andreas Cornelius (Atalanta), Kasper Dolberg (Ajax), Martin Braithwaite (Bordeaux), Nicolai Jorgensen (Feyenoord), Pione Sisto (Celta Vigo), Viktor Fischer (FC Copenhagen), Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig)
Manager: Age Hareide