By Samindra Kunti in Rotterdam
June 13 – On Wednesday, hosts the Netherlands will take on Croatia in the first semi-final of the Nations League Final Four,.
Four days after Manchester City’s Champions League win and historic treble, with 115 asterisks, international football kicks into full gear again with the third edition of the Final Four in the Nations League. This iteration sees the Netherlands, Croatia, Spain and Italy compete for the prize in a competition that UEFA introduced to replace friendly matches.
In the run-up to the first semi-final, Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman (pictured) spoke of his team’s desire to win the Nations League, which would represent the first trophy for the Dutch since 1988.
“I don’t see it as a transitional phase,” said Koeman at a news conference. “In a national team, players come and players go. Players develop, we had them in 2018 and 2019. You always like that. I’m not working on the European championship yet. We want to win the Nations League and we will do everything we can to achieve that.”
His Croatia counterpart Zlatko Dalic echoed those words, channelling Croatia’s fighting spirit as they go in search of their first silverware since independence in 1991. The Croatians have reached the last four of the World Cup three times, but they have never won a prize in international football. Dalic said he was as motivated as during the World Cup, seeking “to make more history” and to get “the maximum best result.”
He said: “We will aim towards showing our best in these two matches. What we have achieved, becoming one of the four best teams, is a great result and if we can improve and win a medal, that will be great. It will be hard.”
It’s the first time that Croatia will play on Dutch soil. In 2008, they lost a friendly against the Netherlands 0-3 in Zagreb, but that result was far less significant than Croatia’s 2-1 victory at the 1998 World Cup that clinched a bronze medal and wrapped up a fairytale tournament for the Vatreni.
They will however be without Josko Gvardiol while the Dutch miss Juventus defender Mathijs de Ligt, who dropped out with injury. Koeman also confirmed that Justin Bijlow will start as his number one.
The winner will play Italy or Spain in Sunday’s final at Rotterdam’s De Kuip Stadium.
Netherlands: Bijlow; Dumfries, Van Dijk, Botman, Aké; De Roon, De Jong, Simons; Bergwijn, Gakpo, Malen
Croatia: Livaković; Juranović, Vida, Šutalo, Perišić; Modrić, Brozović, Kovačić, Pašalić, Kramarić, Ivanušec
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