Croatia Secures Spot in Nations League Final by Defeating Hosts Netherlands

Croatia demonstrated their strength in a thrilling match against the Netherlands, securing a 4-2 victory in extra time during the Nations League semi-final held in Rotterdam. With this win, Croatia advances to the final, which will take place on Sunday.

Their opponent in the final will be determined by the outcome of the second semi-final between Italy and Spain, scheduled for Thursday in Enschede. Croatia, eager to clinch their first major title, has carried forward their impressive form from the previous World Cup in Qatar, where they achieved a third-place finish.

In the first edition of the biennial Nations League, the Netherlands fell short, losing 1-0 to Portugal in the final during Ronald Koeman’s first tenure as coach. Two years later, in 2021, France claimed the title with a 2-1 victory over Spain, courtesy of goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe.

The decisive moments in the Croatia-Netherlands match came in extra time. Substitute Bruno Petkovic scored a magnificent goal from the edge of the penalty area, eight minutes into extra time, giving Croatia the lead. Later, Luka Modric sealed their triumph with a late penalty, their second of the game.

Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic expressed hope that Modric, who is nearing the end of his illustrious career, would continue to contribute to their success. “He can be the one to help us win the gold medal,” Dalic told reporters, emphasizing Modric’s importance to the team’s quality.

The Netherlands, hosting the four-nation tournament, managed to force extra time with a last-minute equalizer, ensuring a 2-2 draw after 90 minutes despite being outplayed for most of the match in front of their home fans at Feyenoord Stadium.

“There were clear moments that showed where we need to improve,” Koeman remarked in his post-match comments. “[Croatia] were just a bit smarter, a bit more secure in possession, and overall they deserved the win.”

The Netherlands initially took the lead through Donyell Malen’s goal in the 34th minute, but Croatia equalized from the penalty spot with Andrej Kramaric’s successful conversion in the 55th minute of the second half. Mario Pasalic then gave Croatia a 2-1 advantage in the 73rd minute, only for Noa Lang to equalize for the Netherlands in stoppage time.

Croatia captain Modric showcased his experience and skill, winning a penalty for his team by outsmarting Cody Gakpo in the Dutch penalty area. Kramaric confidently converted the penalty to level the score. Pasalic’s goal and Lang’s late equalizer sent the game into extra time.

However, parity was short-lived as Modric’s brilliant pass set up Petkovic, who scored a spectacular goal to give Croatia the lead once again. Modric himself sealed the victory with a late penalty, capping off an outstanding individual performance.

Reflecting on the Netherlands’ progress, Koeman acknowledged their improvement since his return as coach. However, he also emphasized that they have not yet reached the desired level. The Netherlands will now compete in the third-place playoff against the losing team from Thursday’s match between Italy and Spain. Following this tournament, their Euro 2024 qualification campaign will resume in September with matches against Greece and Ireland.