Croatia and Denmark lock horns on Sunday night in Nizhny Novgorod for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter.
"The 0-0 half-time correct score appeals at 13/10. Eight of Denmark’s past 10 tussles have been goalless at the break, as have 11 of Croatia’s last 14."
Croatia v Denmark
Sunday July 1, 19:00
Live on BBC
Croatia take top spot in Group D
Croatia made nine changes for their final group game against Iceland knowing qualification to the knockout stage was already secure thanks to comfortable victories over Nigeria and Argentina. Nevertheless, the Blazers confirmed their place as Group D winners with a 2-1 triumph over Iceland.
In truth, it was far from an intense or overly impressive display as the Balkan boys spent long spells keeping possession without ever looking like over-exerting themselves. Even so, the team appear rejuvenated under Zlatko Dalic's watch, who only took charge with one World Cup qualification match remaining.
The bullish boss said he is convinced the Last 16 will not be the end for his side having recorded five victories from their last six outings, the exception against Brazil. The Blazers have notched at least twice in each of their past four fixtures and five players have contributed to their seven-goal tally at the World Cup.
Ivan Perisic and Luka Modric were the only players retained for the Iceland contest as Dalic rested and rotated his pack. However, Milan Badelj, Mateo Kovacic and Vedran Corluka showcased their ability and will be hoping to keep their place in the team for Sunday night's encounter.
Denmark yet to impress
Denmark played out a dour goalless draw against France in their Group C concluder to confirm their position as pool runners-up. The stalemate saw the Red-White into the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time since 2002 and extended their record unbeaten run to 18 games.
Frustrated supporters have bemoaned head coach Age Hareide's pragmatic approach and the manner of the display frustrated fans. Denmark's only on-target effort arrived in the 55th minute in a contest that lacked ambition, inspiration and goal-mouth excitement.
The Scandinavians arrived in Russia with gusto but their opening three outings have failed to ignite. There's been an overreliance on Christian Eriksen - the Spurs schemer has contributed to two of Denmark's three goals - with the Red-White returning just 2.40 Expected Goals against modest opposition.
Defensive midfielder William Kvist remains sidelined and Lasse Schone is expected to deputise, while Andreas Christensen is an option having played further forward against France. Yussuf Poulsen returns from suspension and should start on the right side of midfield in place of Martin Braithwaite.
Slow start anticipated on Sunday night
Croatia have been chalked up as odds-on [1.90] shouts to secure a passage to the quarter-finals with victory in 90 minutes, and while the Blazers have received plenty of plaudits for their first three performances, I'm not entirely convinced this team have been overly tested.
The Balkan outfit overcame a lifeless Nigeria before taking advantage of Argentina's implosion. The second string saw off Iceland last time out, although on the balance of play Dalic's troops were far from eye-catching. Of course, the squad is littered with star quality but I'm still waiting for a standout display.
Denmark's aim will be to sit deep and frustrate. The Red-White will relish their opportunity to play on the counter-attack and Hareide's outfit provide plenty of threat from set-pieces. The [5.60] underdogs are an organised and resilient bunch and will have no qualms over taking a patient approach.
Goals in short supply
Since 1990, 64% of Last 16 ties have featured fewer than three goals and it's difficult to see this encounter breaking the mould. Croatia have collected for Under 2.5 Goals [1.50] backers in 10 of their previous 14 fixtures and Denmark have followed suit in all bar one of their last 11.
The Danes have shipped a solitary strike in seven - a penalty against Australia - and conceded only three times in 11 outings. Seven of those showdowns paid out in the Under 1.5 Goals [2.52] market and a repeat could be on the cards here.
Mark's World Cup Profit/Loss
Staked: 8.00 pts
Returned: 8.90 pts
Croatia v Denmark Opta Stats
Croatia and Denmark will be meeting for the sixth time. Their head to head record is perfectly balanced with two wins each and one draw. Another draw is [3.3].
The only previous encounter between Croatia and Denmark in a major tournament was at Euro 1996. Croatia won 3-0 in the group stages thanks to goals by Davor Suker (2) and Zvonimir Boban (1). The Croats are [1.91] to win again.
Croatia have reached the knockout stages of the World Cup for only the second time after 1998. They finished third that year, their best ever performance at a major tournament. Croatia are [3.35] to reach the semi-finals again.
Croatia have won all three of their games so far at the 2018 World Cup, which is their longest ever streak of victories in the competition. They’ve also conceded only one goal in those three games, it came from the penalty spot against Iceland. Croatia are [2.6] to win to nil.
Six of Croatia’s seven goals at this year’s World Cup have been scored in the second-half. Also, five of their last six shots on target have found the back of the net. The draw half-time/Croatia full-time double result is [4.5].
Denmark have reached the knockout stages for the fourth time in five appearances after 1986, 1998 and 2002. However, they have gone past the round of 16 only once previously, back in 1998 when they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Brazil. Denmark are [3.25] to reach the quarter-finals again.
Denmark have scored only two goals in their last three games. However, their four matches in the knockout stages of the World Cup have produced 19 goals (7 scored, 12 conceded), an average of 4.75 per game. Over 3.5 goals is [6.2].
All 29 of Denmark’s goals at the World Cup have been scored from inside the box. Both teams to score is [2.5].
Christian Eriksen is the only Danish player to have had more than one shot on target so far at the 2018 World Cup (4). He’s scored 13 goals and delivered five assists in his last 16 games for Denmark. Eriksen is [5.0] to score.
Kasper Schmeichel saved 12 of the 13 shots on target he faced in the group stages, only conceding one goal (from a penalty). He has also already kept more clean sheets for Denmark at the World Cup (2 in 3 games) than his father Peter (1 in 5 games). Under 2.5 goals is [1.5].
Back 0-0 half-time correct score @ 13/10 in Croatia v Denmark
Back Under 1.5 Goals @ [2.52] in Croatia v Denmark