Luka Modric was meant to be the man to win the match for Croatia against Denmark but he almost ended up costing his team a place in the last eight.
Billed beforehand as a clash between Modric and Christian Eriksen, his rival number 10 in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday, the Croatian skipper had the perfect chance to ensure he finished the winner in the 116th minute.
As an extremely tense game drew to a close, tied at 1-1 with seemingly no one capable of winning, an exquisite defence-splitting pass from Modric sent Ante Rebic goalwards.
Rebic rounded Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel but before he could score he was brought down by Mathias Jorgensen. Penalty to Croatia.
Here was Modric’s chance to complete the pre-match script.
He picked the ball up and waited patiently — before seeing his tame spot kick saved by Schmeichel.
Four minutes later the game ended and a penalty shootout was the only way to separate the two teams, Modric’s chance seemingly gone.
Croatia, and Modric, who had impressed so much in the group stages, stood on the verge of elimination, their fate to be determined by the lottery of a shootout.
After five penalties, Denmark led 2-1 and Modric again held the ball and wandered towards the penalty spot.
The tension in the stadium was palpable.
It is fair to guess that the 40,000 or so in the crowd were thinking the same thing — will he miss again?
No doubt the thought crossed his mind as Modric walked to the spot.
His first penalty had been to Schmeichel’s left, the second went down the middle and — just — avoided the Dane’s trailing leg.
Modric’s penalty redemption had been instantaneous. His first spot kick will now be remembered only as a footnote to the game, not its defining moment.
Denmark were to score no more penalties and minutes later Modric was celebrating on the pitch with his children as Croatia won 3-2 on penalties.
Coach Zlatko Dalic said Modric had volunteered to take the second penalty.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if he had not scored,” asked Dalic afterwards.
His rival Eriksen fared no better.
He took Denmark’s first penalty and saw his effort saved by Danijel Subasic, setting the tone for the shootout, the first of three spot kicks to be missed by the Danish.
Modric said afterwards he had been studying Schmeichel’s technique in case of a penalty.
He complained that the match and heat had been difficult.
“But we survived,” said Modric. They certainly had.