Soccer UEFA Nations League - Play Offs
Croatia vs Spain - Match Preview
⚽ 18 June 2023 - 18:45 GMT +0
It was a night to remember in Rotterdam during the week for Croatia, as they reached another final by becoming just the second side since the turn of the decade to topple the Dutch hosts on home soil (W4-2 AET). This is perhaps the last chance for Croatia’s golden generation to achieve major silverware for the country and it will likely be the omnipresent 37-year-old Luka Modrić who will pull the strings for Croatia once again, as the sun begins to set on his incredible career.
Although they’re here now, it’s been a long and bumpy road to the final for Croatia. They opened their UEFA Nations League (UNL) campaign with a defeat and a draw to Austria and France respectively, but a pair of wins over Denmark and a narrow 1-0 success over the French helped them escape the group. Regardless of their inspirational journey here, Croatia faces a tough test against a Spain side they’ve found tricky opponents over the years (W3, D1, L5), although neutrals might be in for a treat with 19 goals scored across the last three games.
Spain’s semi-final game against old foes Italy looked destined to head for extra time until former Newcastle man Joselu became the unlikely hero, popping up with a goal from the bench in the 88th minute to secure a 2-1 win and with it, an eighth major final! Spain has won four of their seven prior finals, but this one evokes a sense of Déjà vu, with La Rojas defeating Italy 2-1 before losing the final to France by the same scoreline in the 2021 edition.
Claiming the UNL crown would represent the perfect start for new Spain boss Luis de la Fuente, who is overseeing just his fourth game in this final in Rotterdam, after a pair of wins and a shock defeat against Scotland in his opening trio of games. Much like their adversaries, it was a rocky road to the finals for Spain, who eventually qualified for the last four with a crucial win in Portugal on the final matchday. They now come into this game as warm favourites, despite being ranked three places behind Croatia in FIFA’s rankings, but with two wins across the last three H2Hs, Spain may be quietly confident.
📋 Players to watch: Andrej Kramarić has directly contributed to five goals from as many games for club & country following his second-half equaliser in the semi-final (G4, A1). Twenty-year-old Jeremy Pino enjoyed midweek as well after hitting his first competitive goal for Spain to open the scoring against Italy.
⚡ Hot stat: All four goals scored across the two UNL finals to date came after half-time.
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