Subasic plays through injury, comes up big again for Croatia

Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, left, reacts as Croatia players celebrate after scoring the winning penalty during the quarterfinal match between Russia and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, July 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

SOCHI, Russia (AP) Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was the star against Denmark for the three saves he made in the penalty shootout that put the team into the World Cup quarterfinals.

What he did against Russia may be viewed back home as a greater accomplishment.

Subasic appeared to pick up a significant leg injury in the final moments of the second half on Saturday. He grabbed the back of his leg near his hamstring and it appeared he may need a substitute.

But a replacement never arrived. Subasic was able to play through extra time and again made a key save in the penalty shootout as Croatia won 4-3 and advanced to the semifinals for the second time in its history.

Subasic saved the first attempt of the shootout when he made an adjustment while diving to get a hand on Fyodor Smolov’s attempt. It set the tone as Croatia became the first team since Argentina in 1990 to win consecutive World Cup games on penalties.

And it earned the exhausted group a date with England in the semifinals.

”I think we are underdogs from Day 1 and it’s good for us,” Croatia defender Dejan Lovren said. ”When you’ve got all these other teams, France, Belgium, England, that’s the top teams from the beginning and we are the underdogs. Maybe we can change something.”

Subasic didn’t need to win the shootout the same way he did against Denmark, when his three saves were the reason the Croatian team advanced. After saving the first, Subasic was aided when Mario Fernandes missed the net with the third attempt. Croatia’s shooters did enough that Ivan Rakitic’s successful penalty was the winner and set off another wild celebration with Subasic on the bottom of the pile.

Subasic’s four shootout saves are tied with Harald Schumacher of West Germany and Sergio Goygochea of Argentina for the most in a single World Cup.

”He could go on and that was the most important thing,” Croatia captain Luka Modric said. ”I’m not sure how it affected him. But he saved fantastically the first shot in the shootout. I asked him and he said he was OK, it did not affect him much. Thank God everything is fine with him.”

For a while it didn’t look like Subasic would be around for a shootout. He went down injured late in the second half after appearing to injure his hamstring while trying to keep a deflected ball from going over the line for a corner kick. Croatia began warming up its backup goalkeepers in case Subasic was unable to continue into extra time. Even before extra time arrived, Subasic had to block a shot from Smolov from a tight angle late in second-half stoppage time.

In extra time, Subasic blocked and smothered Daler Kuziaev’s attempt, which appeared to be a game-saver until Fernandes came unmarked on a free kick and his header to the far post couldn’t be stopped in the 115th minute.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said Subasic’s uncertain health affected how he wanted to manage his substitutes going into extra time. His hand was forced when Sime Vrsaljko went down with a knee injury early in extra time and Dalic was forced to use his final substitution to replace the defender. At that point, Subasic had to go the rest of the way for the Croatians.

”They’ve shown character once again,” Dalic said. ”And he who does, wins.”

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