efe-epaRostov-on-Don, Russia

Croatia advanced to the 2018 World Cup knockout stage as Group D winners after defeating plucky Iceland 2-1 here Tuesday in the final group match.

The Balkan side were already assured of qualifying and coach Zlatko Dalic took advantage of the opportunity to rest all but two of his starters in preparation for the round of 16.

Iceland, meanwhile, began the day with a possibility of surviving to the next round, depending on the outcome of the Nigeria-Argentina match.

Croatia dominated from the start, racking up a 64 percent to 36 percent advantage in possession by the end of the first half, though Iceland came to life just before the break, as Alfred Finnbogason, Birkir Bjarnason, and Aron Gunnarsson created chances.

Eight minutes after the re-start, Iceland would have cause to rue those missed opportunities, falling behind 1-0 on a goal by Milan Badelj, who beat goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson from close range just after hitting the cross-bar from distance.

Determined not to go away quietly on their first appearance in the World Cup, Iceland pressed hard for the equalizer only to be frustrated by the cross-bar and by Croatia keeper Lovre Kalinic.

The Icelanders finally pulled level in the 76th minute, when Gylfi Sigurdsson converted from the penalty spot after a foul by Dejan Lovren.

Energized by the goal and heartened by the (momentary) 1-1 scoreline in the Nigeria-Argentina contest, Iceland shifted into still higher gear, but Ivan Perisic burst their balloon with a goal in the 90th minute to make it 2-1 for Croatia.

As Group D winners, Croatia will face Group C runners-up Denmark on Sunday in the round of 16.