Sunday was a day of dramatic penalty shootouts at the 2018 FIFA World Cup for just after Russia edged Spain to reach the quarters, tournament dark horses Croatia did the same with Denmark to set up a last-eight date with the hosts.
Croatia, after humbling Argentina in the group stages, were favourites to beat Christian Eriksen and Co. but all bets went awry as the Danes took a lead in the very first minute itself.
Taking advantage of some slack defending, centre-back Mathias Jorgensen bundled home the opener and not for the first time and probably not the last in this tournament, the favourites were reeling.
Unlike most of the big guns that failed to fire, however, Croatia responded and would equalise within four minutes of going behind with striker Mario Mandzukic the man to restore parity.
What followed then was a battle of attrition, with both sides defending deep and in numbers and proper chances a rarity.
Arguably, Luka Modric and Co. had the upper hand for most parts, but Denmark had their moments too and as the 90 minutes came to a close, both sides had their respective goalkeepers to thank for keeping them in the tie.
Initially it looked the extra-time would be uneventful as well, but the match erupted at the very death as Croatian winger Ante Rebic was brought down in the box after rounding Kasper Schmeichel.
Match referee Nestor Pitana signalled for a spot-kick and as Modric stepped up, it looked like game over for the Danes as the Real Madrid man had proven to be ice-cool from the spot on a number of occasions.
Perhaps it was the pressure or the fact that he was exhausted, but the diminutive maestro failed to beat Schmeichel for the Dane made an excellent save and held on to the ball gratefully.
A penalty shootout beckoned and remarkably, both sides failed to convert their first attempts.
Skipper Simon Kjaer opened the scoring for Denmark in emphatic fashion, but Andrej Kramaric beat Schmeichel to keep it level at 1-1.
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Veteran Michael Krohn Dehli would put the Danes back in the lead before Modric made amends for his earlier miss by keeping his nerve in the shootout.
Lasse Schone’s attempt was saved by Danijel Subasic, but so was Josip Pivaric’s by Schmeichel as the drama mounted.
Nicolai Jorgensen’s spot-kick, however, wasn’t good enough to find the back of the net and Ivan Rakitic would send Croatia into the quarter-finals with a swing of his right boot, sparking wild celebrations from the bench and the rest of his teammates standing near the half line.
Next up are Russia on Saturday and while the partisan crowd won’t make it easy, Croatia are inching closer and closer to the impossible dream.