NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia — Ivan Rakitic is wary Croatia's dream of lifting the World Cup could be shattered by Denmark and Christian Eriksen on Sunday.
Zlatko Dalic's side returns to Nizhny Novgorod, the scene of its 3-0 win over Argentina in the group phase, for a delicately poised last-16 date.
Croatia is the favorite to progress to the quarterfinals, having topped Group D with victories over Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland, while Denmark battled through from Group C behind France.
Tottenham star Eriksen cut something of a frustrated figure in the 0-0 draw with Les Bleus that sent his side through, although he did score a fine goal in the 1-1 draw with Australia.
And Rakitic admits his midfield opponent is a player they will have to watch closely if Croatia is to progress in the tournament.
"They are very compact, they know how to stop their opponents," he said. "They allow few chances to score for the opposing team and they can be very dangerous on the attack. And they have Christian Eriksen, who is one of the best playmakers in Europe and the world.
"If it was up to the players we would play the World Cup every year because it’s the greatest thing you can play. If you just surf the websites and social media, you can see how many people are enjoying the World Cup, [and] in the streets and in the squares, so much support each team is getting.
"There is a reason we are away from our families for a month. We need to use that time to do everything we can to help Croatia win."
Denmark has claimed only one win — a slender 1-0 triumph over Peru — in Russia, although it has proved to be a resilient outfit and has yet to concede a goal from open play.
Midfielder Thomas Delaney is confident Eriksen will be able to inspire his teammates to a stronger attacking showing against Croatia, though, after admitting his compatriot had to play something of a restricted role when they sought to get a point against France.
"In order for Christian to shine, he needs us to play in a certain way," he told FIFA TV. "Against France, we had already decided that we would play more calculating football, which didn't allow him so much time and space to show his qualities.
"We haven't been satisfied with our expression on the pitch for the first two matches and Christian has perhaps suffered a bit under that."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Croatia – Ivan Perisic
Scoring a superb winner against Iceland helped to remind fans that Perisic remains Croatia's most dangerous attacking weapon. When you consider Denmark has only conceded one goal — and that was a penalty — during the finals, the pace and trickery of the Inter winger could be hugely important to his team's hopes of going through.
Denmark – Andreas Cornelius
Remarkably, all 29 of Denmark's World Cup goals have been scored from inside the box, which means Cornelius' role as poacher-in-chief could be critical. Getting on the end of those Eriksen deliveries might be his side's best chance of making the quarterfinals.
KEY 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.
- 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 (two) and Zvonimir Boban (one).
- Six of Croatia's seven goals at this year's World Cup have been scored in the second half. Also, five of its last six shots on target have found the back of the net.
- Denmark has scored only two goals in its last three games. However, its four matches in the knockout stages of the World Cup have produced 19 goals (seven scored, 12 conceded), an average of 4.75 per game.
- If Luka Modric plays against Denmark, he will equal Darijo Srna as the Croatia player with most appearances at major tournaments (18 across the World Cup and European Championship). In his 17 previous appearances, he has scored four goals (including two at World Cup 2018) and delivered only one assist (against Turkey at Euro 2008).
- Christian Eriksen is the only Danish player to have had more than one shot on target so far at the 2018 World Cup (four). He has scored 13 goals and delivered five assists in his last 16 games for Denmark.