Croatia faced Denmark in Round Five of the UEFA Nations League in Zagreb on Thursday night. The “Vatreni “ came out victorious 2-1 there. Coach Zlatko Dalić’s team now leads the group with 10 points, one ahead of the Danish side going into the last round of play on Sunday.
Even more remarkably this victory means that Croatia for the first time in its history has won three consecutive matches against Top 10 opponents in the FIFA World Rankings. Regardless of what one may think of the merit of those rankings, it is a great accomplishment and certainly comes at the right time, with less than two months before the World Cup.
The goals came through Borna Sosa in the 49th minute, Christian Erikson in the 77th, while substitute Lovro Majer scored the winner in the 79th.
Dalić made five changes to the lineup that he began with the last international between Croatia and France in June. The RB Leipzig star center back Joško Gvardiol was key among them. He and Josip Šutalo are now the preferred pairing in the heart of the defense, despite their youth. They are better at playing out of the back, than the far more experienced Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida. This frees the midfield line from much of their defensive work, enabling especially Luka Modrić as a playmaker. This still has risks involved, but it works wonders for the team as a whole.
Positives for the home side
For Croatia, the most encouraging aspects of the game came when defending. The defence thwarted most of the Danish attacks, aside from Erikson’s goal, which was just a brilliant long-distance strike.
🇭🇷 Lovro Majer restores Croatia’s lead against Denmark 💪#NationsLeague pic.twitter.com/W5THkJNB4t
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) September 22, 2022
The response to that setback was also special. The much-criticized goalkeeper Dominik Livaković was there for the few other opportunities the defence allowed. The fact that Denmark did not have a true central striker, like they had Andreas Cornelius in the first Nations League match between Denmark and Croatia, certainly made things easier for the home team.
Details to iron out
There are still some question marks ahead of the World Cup. Particularly they need to solve the centre forward position. Andrej Kramarić started in that position Thursday night, but did not play well. Apart from that, as with any major tournament, keeping players healthy is key. Croatia also has a history of underestimating lesser-known, non-European opponents such as their first two rivals in Qatar, which will be Morocco and Canada.
A look ahead
Croatia now leads its Nations League group, one point ahead of Denmark in second place. While the Danes face France in the last match of the group, the Vatreni take on Austria. If Croatia wins, and/or if Denmark fails to be victorious, Croatia will qualify for the Final Four tournament of the Nations League. Neither of those sides has ever made the finals of this new competition.