Croatia eye-up first major title, Spain hunt return to winning elite

By Samindra Kunti in Rotterdam

June 17 – On Sunday, the third edition of the Nations League will reach its climax with both finalists Spain and Croatia seeking the win the tournament for the first time.

For the Croatians there is even more at stake: a win would represent their first-ever prize in the international game and a coronation for their golden generation.

If the last meeting between the two sides is anything to go by, the third edition of the Nations League will draw to a close in spectacular fashion on Sunday at the De Kuip Stadium. Perhaps asking for a repeat of that 5-3 scoreline at Euro 2020 is wishful thinking, but the late drama in both semi-finals suggests this final will not be a dull affair, with both countries keen to win the tournament.

It’s the first time that Croatia will feature in a Nations League final, but the significance of that milestone cannot be underestimated: the final offers Croatia a chance to win their first-ever international prize.

As a young independent nation, Croatia shocked the world with a fairytale run at the 1998 World Cup, claiming the bronze medal. The current generation is however the country’s best ever with Luka Modric and co outperforming and outclassing what Davor Suker, Roberto Prosinecki and others achieved in 1998. Modric led his team twice to the World Cup semi-finals and the balletic midfielder also encapsulates his team’s fighting spirit.

“It will be 90 minutes of intense football,” said Zlatko Dalic. “We have shown so many times that we have sufficient energy. We have been following the four matches that the Spanish team played with the new coach. Not much has been changed: fast players, classic ball possession, quick passes. We know what we are facing – we have the experience of Copenhagen. They always try to do something extra.”

Spain return to the final after losing the 2021 showpiece against then-world champions France. They eliminated Italy at the San Siro at the time and overcame the Azzurri again in the last four with a late strike by substitute Joselu on Thursday in Enschede.

Gavi, debuting at 16 in 2021, has already become the beating heart of a Spanish side that is seeking to find its feet under De La Fuente who replaced Luis Enrique after the World Cup. It’s the fifth time that De la Fuente will manage in a final.

“I think my team have peaked at the best moment of the season,” said De la Fuente. Motivation overcomes everything. What gives recognition are the titles, but what matters is the previous work. The title puts the varnish on the work.”

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