NIZHNY NOVGOROD • Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic lauded his captain Luka Modric, who missed a penalty in extra time but scored another in a shoot-out victory over Denmark on Sunday that put them in the World Cup quarter-finals.
With the score at 1-1 in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Modric's spotkick five minutes from the end of extra time was saved by Kasper Schmeichel. However, the midfielder opted to return and scored in Croatia's 3-2 shoot-out win.
"I am fascinated with his determination to shoot after he missed in extra time. He took the responsibility as a true captain, and it speaks volumes for Luka... Can you imagine if he had not scored? But he is a great player," Dalic, said.
The 51-year-old, who rushed to celebrate with fans after Croatia sealed a clash with Russia, also had warm words for his goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. The Monaco No. 1 saved three of Denmark's penalties - from Christian Eriksen, Lasse Schone and Nicolai Jorgensen.
"You don't see that every day. He pulled us out when we needed him most," Dalic said. "Great thanks to him."
Schmeichel also saved three spot kicks on the night, denying Josip Pivaric and Milan Badelj in the shoot-out.
Watched from the stands by his father Peter, he could hardly have done more for his team and ended up in the unusual position of being both man of the match and a loser.
"It's a strange feeling - huge disappointment, but also enormous pride about our team," the 31-year-old Kasper said.
Denmark and Croatia scored inside four minutes, only the second time in World Cup history that both teams did so after Argentina v Nigeria in June 2014.
In an extraordinary opening, both teams scored comical goals in the first four minutes, with Mario Mandzukic cancelling out Mathias Jorgensen's opener after just 57 seconds. But instead of that setting the stage for a thriller, the rest of both normal and extra time was mostly poor quality, as the Danes successfully stifled Croatia's creativity and posed their own constant threat from long throws.
On both sides, passes were mis-timed, crosses over-hit, and shots scuffed.
Dalic recognised Croatia were under par in Nizhniy Novgorod after winning their group games against Nigeria Argentina and Iceland, and praised Denmark for disrupting their normal flowing style.
"We haven't played a great game, not at the level of our previous games but we played for a result," Dalic said, turning his focus immediately to the hosts.
"I am going to say to my lads that we are playing the best team in the World Cup. We must not be arrogant... It will be a huge test for us... We have come so far, we do not intend to stop here, but I'm sure Russia think the same."