Denmark coach Age Hareide summed up his strategy against Croatia at the World Cup: score more.
The Danes are unbeaten in their last 18 matches and have given up only one goal in the last seven with Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel as goalkeeper.
They’ve also produced only two goals in three World Cup group matches. This evening, they’ll have to do better in the round of 16 – much better than a lifeless 0-0 draw against France in the final group match.
“I think you will see a different Denmark from what you have seen so far,” Hareide said. “We need to play differently to progress. We need to defend, but we also need to attack more than we’ve done in previous matches.”
Croatia are seen as the favourites to get past Denmark, with some even saying the Balkan country have an outside shot to reach the final. Croatia’s midfield, which includes Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, has been as good as any at the World Cup.
Despite the coach’s wishes, Denmark live by their defence and goalkeeper Schmeichel.
“I think he’s been doing very well, but I don’t want to praise him too much,” captain and defender Simon Kjaer told reporters yesterday as he sat next to Schmeichel. “That he’s played so well is not a surprise to us.”
Kjaer also promised changes against Croatia. “They will have to respect us,” Kjaer said. “We are not easy to play against. We are not a nice team to meet and, of course, the Croatians know that.”
Schmeichel is the son of former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. He doesn’t appreciate being compared to his father and Danish journalists no longer ask about it. But reporters at the World Cup have raised the question, and Schmeichel has been polite in answering.
“It’s not annoying. I just expect more of you guys,” Schmeichel said, chiding a few reporters. “Obviously coming to the World Cup you have new media that haven’t spoken to me before and they are going to ask the question. I think the Danish media know what the response will be.”
Croatia enjoyed a memorable 3-0 dismantling of Lionel Messi’s Argentina while winning three out of three games in the group stage. They are also in the supposedly easier half of the knockout stage, avoiding big guns Portugal, France, Argentina (now departed anyway), Brazil and Belgium until the final. So that 15 July final in Moscow is a real possibility for Croatia considering the form of the team and the path ahead.
But manager Zlatko Dalic doesn’t want his team getting carried away. “What is gone is gone now,” he said. “We have to put those three [group] matches behind us, keep them in the archive somewhere. We have to focus on Denmark. This is the moment of truth.”
Dalic was responding to the direct question: Can Croatia win this World Cup?
Although he avoided a direct yes or no answer, Croatia’s response on the field has been in the affirmative.
“I think Croatia could surprise many,” Denmark coach Age Hareide said. “You have seen them play these games at the beginning of the tournament. They look strong.”
Asked to analyse Croatia’s team in detail, a team built around the Real Madrid-Barcelona midfield of Modric and Rakitic, Hareide just smiled and shook his head: “Very good. It’s very good.”