In what was a thrilling showdown from Rotterdam on Wednesday night, Croatia punched their Nations League final ticket as they clinched an action-packed 4-2 victory away at the Netherlands.
Although Borussia Dortmund’s Donyell Malen might have opened the scoring for Ronald Koeman’s men just 11 minutes before the half-time break, it was the World Cup bronze medalists who mounted a stunning comeback after returning from the interval.
While Andrej Kramaric and Mario Pasalic might have seen their second-half brace ruled out as Noa Lang produced a stunning last-gasp equaliser at the De Kuip, that 96th-minute heartbreak was not enough to stand in the way of Zlatko Dalic’s high-flying squad.
Despite being dragged to extra-time, Wednesday’s guests eventually collected what will be remembered as a famous scalp on foreign soil as Bruno Petkovic and midfield icon Luka Modric swept home in the final 12 minutes.
Storming their way to a maiden Nations League final and just 90 minutes away from getting their hands on a first piece of international silverware, Croatia also piled more pressure onto Koeman’s shoulders.
With Holland’s home support making their feelings heard after an extra-time collapse here, the one-time Barcelona boss will know that his inconstant squad missed out on a golden opportunity this month.
In what was a stunning Nations League showdown on Wednesday night, we have taken a look at the main talking points from Rotterdam.
Croatia cement their spot as a genuine European giant
While Croatia might have shocked the footballing world back in 2018 as they secured a stunning World Cup silver medal, the Blazers have only continued to cement their status as one of Europe’s genuine giants.
Making yet another statement on the world stage as they secured a bronze medal finish
thanks to a 2-1 win against Morocco on December 17th, Wednesday’s guests are riding what has been a history-making wave of momentum over recent times.
Mounting a famous second-half comeback here and more than deserving of an iconic victory in Rotterdam, Dalic’s high-flying squad will believe that 2023 is the year that they finally get their hands of a piece of international silverware.
Becoming one of the real underdog stories over the past five years, Croatia have certainly proven that they are a major test for any of world football’s elite.
With a 3-0 defeat at the hands of eventual World Cup winners Argentina remarkably the only
loss that Dalic’s side have tasted from their previous 16 appearances across all competitions, the Blazers have quickly become a favourite to neutrals from across the globe.
Pressure is already on Koeman’s shoulders
Although the Netherlands might have eventually been frustrated out in Qatar over the winter as they had to settle for a quarter-final finish, Wednesday’s hosts had gained plenty of admirers for their remarkable resurge under Louis van Gaal.
However, with it announced prior to their World Cup exit that the one-time Manchester United boss would be stepping down from his role, many were curious as to who would fill van Gaal’s void.
While it might have been confirmed in advance that Koeman would be returning for a second stint in charge of the European icons, some were concerned that the ex-Southampton boss was not a smart replacement for the inspiring van Gaal.
Not handed the chance to lead his nation to a major international tournament during his first
spell in the dugout between 2018-2020, Koeman has received plenty of criticism for his pragmatic approach.
Opening Holland’s European Championship qualifying adventure with a dreadful 4-0 drumming away at France on March 23rd, the 60-year-old already finds growing pressure on his shoulders.
With Wednesday’s home support making their feelings heard at the final whistle, Koeman and the Netherlands will know that they blew a golden chance on home soil this month.
Kramaric can be the man for Croatia
With former attacking icon Mario Mandzukic’s announcing his retirement from the international stage two years ago, Croatia were certainly in search of someone who could be a genuine replacement for the ex-Juventus marksman.
However, although Kramaric might have recorded just a single World Cup strike out in the Middle East last winter, the Hoffenheim ace has quickly become a crucial part of this current Croatia squad.
Converting from the spot 10 minutes after the half-time break and dragging Dalic’s side level, the 31-year-old has enjoyed another free-scoring run this season while both on domestic and international duties.
Claiming Hoffenheim’s Golden Boot this season after notching 16 Bundesliga strikes during the 2022/23 campaign, Kramaric caused Holland a host of issues on Wednesday night and is clearly enjoying his role as Croatia’s leading man.
Now bagging nine goals in his last 12 appearances for club and country, the one-time Leicester misfit could attract some real interest during the summer transfer window.
Netherlands: Bijlow, Dumfries, Geertruida, Van Dijk, Ake, Wieffer, Koopmeiners, De Jong, Malen, Gakpo, Simons
Subs: Weghorst, Wijnaldum, Bergwijn, Lang
Croatia: Livakovic, Juranovic, Sutalo, Vida, Perisic, Kovacic, Brozovic, Modric, Pasalic, Ivanusec, Kramaric
Subs: Erlic, Majer, Vlasic, Stanisic
Goals: Netherlands: Malen (34’), Lang (90+6’) – Croatia: Kramaric (55’ P), Pasalic (72’), Petkovic (98’), Modric (116’ P)
Yellow Cards: Netherlands: De Jong – Croatia: Kovacic, Pasalic, Brozovic, Livakovic
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Istvan Kovacs
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