Croatia stays unbeaten as Iceland crashes out of World Cup
CROATIA fielded a virtual reserves team but still engineered enough quality moments to beat Iceland 2-1 and book a round-of -16 game against Denmark in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.
It was harsh on the Icelanders, who needed a win in the hope of qualifying for the World Cup's knockout stages and were in with a chance right up until Ivan Perisic scored in the 90th minute to seal the deal.
Instead, Argentina will go through with Croatia from Group D, setting up a blockbuster with France, after the South Americans produced a late winner of their own to beat Nigeria.
It was a vastly entertaining game in Rostov. Iceland's best player Gylfi Sigurdsson had equalised from the penalty spot after a high-quality finish from Croatian midfielder Milan Badelj put his team in the lead, but Perisic's late, late show ended Iceland's dreams.
The contest was a fascinating contrast in football styles. Not that one is superior. One of the beauties of the beautiful game is the number of different ways it can be played.
The Croatians treat the football the way a master pianist strokes the ivories, while the Icelanders batter it about like a demolition expert bringing down an old power station.
To continue the musical analogy. It's Mozart versus Megadeth. Not that they don't have skill, it's just there is nothing half-hearted about the way the play.
Yet, after a strong start by the Croatians, the Icelanders found their tempo and to some extent knocked their opponents off their languid stride.
As the first half progressed it was the Icelanders who looked increasingly dangerous. For all the beautiful notes played by the Croats, conducted by captain Luka Modric, it was the Icelanders who looked more likely to bring the house down by scoring the first goal.
It was scoreless at the half-time break though and Iceland was still very much alive in the competition.
It had been helped to some extent by Croatia's team selection. Already through to the second round, Croatia could afford to give some players the night off.
Only two players, Modric and Perisic, started from the team that embarrassed Argentina 3-0 earlier in the week.
The Icelanders never stopped trying - they hit the bar and had other chances as well. Midfielder Birkir Bjarnason had a terrific opportunity to finish off a flowing move that would have put his team in front, but made a terrible mess of the chance.
Iceland would surge, inspired by a noisy contingent of its countrymen, then Croatia would take the ball back and restore some calm. But they couldn't shake a tenacious Iceland, not until the last minute.