Croatia and Denmark meet in Nihzy Novgorod with a place in the World Cup quarter-finals at stake. Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) offers his best bets.
Croatia v Denmark | Sunday 1st July 2018, 19:00 | ITV
In the previous five World Cups, maximum points in a group has been achieved 14 times; on 13 of those occasions, the team in question reached the quarter-finals.
Nine sides have won their last-16 tie in 90 minutes, three required extra-time while one game was decided on penalties: Argentina against England in 1998.
The only time a team has taken all nine points from their group and not gone through to the second round came in 2006, when Spain dominated a weak group then lost 3-1 to France.
We would have to treat that as a special case because Les Bleus reached the final that year; they had a top team including Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and of course Zinedine Zidane.
For Croatia, who didn’t drop any points in Group D, Denmark may not provide the highest standard of opposition.
Not-so great Danes
For a start, Denmark were very fortunate to qualify from Group C. They somehow escaped with four points from their first two games against Peru and Australia, despite being under the cosh in the second half of both matches.
Luckily for Aage Hareide, neither of those opponents quite had the killer instinct to put their chances away and Kasper Schmeichel’s heroics were enough to preserve a 1-0 win and a 1-1 draw respectively.
Those results meant that in the final game, they just needed a point to secure qualification against a France side that just needed a point to rubber-stamp top spot, so it may not be the greatest surprise that the game conveniently ended 0-0.
Christian Eriksen has shown flashes of what he can do – a clever assist for Yusuff Poulson’s winner against Peru and a well-worked opener against the Aussies – but the players around him have not done enough to make him a prominent influence on their games.
Hareide therefore deserves a degree of scrutiny for his defensive tactics, which have seen them his side take just 25 shots – only Iran and Panama have had fewer at Russia 2018.
Denmark are arguably the weakest team left in this competition.
Credit to Croatia
In a tournament that no longer features Germany and in which none of the obvious favourites have quite been at their best, Croatia have a massive opportunity.
Zlatko Dalic made eight changes for the clash with Iceland on Tuesday, yet his side still managed a 2-1 victory in Rostov.
Mateo Kovacic came in for stand-out performer Ivan Rakitic and distributed superbly.
Ivan Strinic had a great start to the tournament, but fellow left-back Josip Pivaric got the assist for the opener.
Marcelo Brozovic fulfilled the holding role perfectly against Argentina, but Milan Badelj can do it just as well.
If one Croatia player gets injured, they have somebody else primed to come in so that the system doesn’t change.
The betting angle
Five of the aforementioned 14 teams to take maximum points from their group have won the subsequent last-16 tie in 90 minutes without conceding; so the standard probability is 36%. Croatia though have kept clean sheets in two of their three games so far and face a Denmark side that have only scored twice, which makes that outcome more likely in this match than it would normally be. The Croatia win to nil at 13/8 with Betfred, which implies a probability of 38%, therefore looks very attractive.
For those who fancy a look at the goalscorer market, it might be worth looking at Rakitic, their standard penalty taker. At the time of writing, 24 penalties have been awarded so far in 48 World Cup games; that’s one in two, so the average team has a 25% chance of having a penalty awarded to them in every game and that’s only if we were to assume their opponents have a similar skill level.
If we say that Croatia have roughly a 33% chance of getting a penalty in this match and around 75% of penalties end in a goal, then we’re looking at a 25% chance of Rakitic scoring from the spot. Added to that, he’s a forward-thinking midfielder who is more than capable of scoring in open play, as we saw against Argentina, so bet365’s 6/1 on Rakitic to score anytime appeals.