Croatia secured first place in Group D on Tuesday after a hard-fought 2-1 win over gallant Iceland in Rostov-on-Don
Rostov-on-Don, Russia: Croatia secured first place in Group D on Tuesday after a hard-fought 2-1 win over gallant Iceland in Rostov-on-Don, setting up a World Cup last-16 tie with Denmark.
While most eyes were on Argentina and their do-or-die match with Nigeria in Saint Petersburg, Croatia wrapped up top spot in the group thanks to a slick second-half volley by Milan Badelj and a late strike by Ivan Perisic, sandwiching a penalty equaliser from Gylfi Sigurdsson.
"We did everything we could, if you do that you can't be disapointed, we can look each other in the eye and can carry our heads high," said Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson afterwards. "We never gave up... kept on going."
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said Iceland showed "good character, discipline, and fight" but that even though his side were already through to the last 16, "only a win was satisfactory" for him.
With three wins out of three in Group D, "the focus now moves to the Denmark game, it will be a moment of truth", he said.
Dalic rested most of the side that thumped Argentina 3-0, with only captain Luka Modric and winger Perisic keeping their places.
"We gave the squad a chance to play in the World Cup but from this moment on the group stage is over, we have done our job," he said.
Needing a point to make certain of top spot, Croatia dominated early on, with Real Madrid pair Modric and Mateo Kovacic dictating the tempo without creating clear chances.
Midway through the opening period the Nordic side, who had beaten Croatia in qualifying for Russia, took control, threatening from set-pieces and interceptions.
On 25 minutes a trademark long throw from Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson was headed dangerously across the goalmouth by the industrious Hordur Magnusson.
Everton's Sigurdsson tested goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic from a free-kick, while Birkir Bjarnason, who suffered a nosebleed early on, had shots blocked in quick succession.
Just before the break, a drive by Alfred Finnbogasson whistled past the post. Then on the stroke of half-time, Gunnarsson forced an acrobatic save from Kalinic.