FIFA World Cup runners-up in 2018, Croatia, started their Nations League campaign with a disappointing loss. They lost 3-0 at home in Osijek to League A promoted side Austria. This was arguably the easiest match of the group on paper, in a section that also features world champions France as well as Euro 2020 semifinalists Denmark.
Marko Arnautović, Michael Gregoritsch, and Marcel Sabitzer scored the goals for the visitors. The Croatian team was ironically the side that controlled the game in the first half. They had the vast majority of possession early on. The problem was that they failed to create many meaningful opportunities in front of goal. Starting central striker Andrej Kramarić was virtually invisible throughout his time on the pitch.
Team captain and Real Madrid superstar Luka Modrić was understandably rested nearly one week after his UEFA Champions League triumph with Real Madrid. He only came on when they were 3-0 behind. New Tottenham Hotspur signing Ivan Perišić missed the game entirely due to injury. Yet with all due respect to Austria and their players, Croatia had more than enough quality on the field to defeat the visitors.
They bossed the game at the start, without creating enough to trouble the Austrians. Arnautović gave the underdogs the shock lead shortly before the break with arguably their first opportunity. Austria took full advantage of the psychological effect of scoring late in the half and added two more early in the second.
Croatia never recovered, and the Austrians subsequently became the better team. They created more chances in the second half, while Croatia lacked the structure they had had in the first period. As bad as the end result was for the home side, it could have been even worse in the end.
How the Others in the Group Fared
France’s 2-1 home defeat to Denmark in the other game of the group means that the section is now wide open. But there is also the danger that Croatia could face another relegation battle in League A of the Nations League. Yet, it seems to be in the Croatian national team’s DNA to underestimate lesser opponents and to struggle against them. They then often tend to do better against the heavyweights of world football.
Having said that, the Vatreni have never managed to beat the French, who have stopped both of Croatia’s epic World Cup runs in 1998 and 2018 respectively. With that in mind, Croatia will face France twice this month.
It will be interesting to see how they fare against them this time, especially on June 6, with both teams trying to make up for an opening defeat.
For Austria on the other hand, led by new coach and former Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain in this group.
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