The Netherlands host Croatia in the UEFA Nations League semi-final on Wednesday night in Rotterdam. Oranje Holland were runners-up in the first edition of the Nations League after losing to Portugal in 2019. The Balkan country finished third in the FIFA World Cup and are ranked seventh in the World Rankings.
The Dutch reached the semi-finals with five wins and a draw in their six Nations League group matches. After a 1-0 win against Belgium in round six back in September 2022, they have since played seven matches. They made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup after topping their group by beating Senegal and Qatar and drawing 1-1 with Ecuador.
In the round of 16, they beat USA 3-1. The quarter-finals saw a fine comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Argentina before a loss on penalties. They have since started their Euro 2024 Qualifying campaign. Ronald Koeman’s first match in charge was a humiliating 4-0 loss away to France as his side trailed 3-0 after 21 minutes. Their last match saw a meagre 3-0 win against minnows Gibraltar despite playing 49 minutes against ten men.
Netherlands Team News
Ronald Koeman is without top forward Memphis Depay after his withdrawal due to injury. PSV winger Xavi Simons is set to start down the left after scoring 19 goals last season. Cody Gakpo and Wout Weghorst will fight to play as the central striker.
Central defender Matthijs de Ligt injured his calf in training and was replaced in the squad by Daley Blind. Sven Botman could finally make his international debut alongside Virgil Van Dijk with Nathan Ake at left back if he has recovered from involvement in the UEFA Champions League final.
Ronald Koeman will be eager to lift this cup after a difficult start to his return as Dutch coach. Aside from the 1988 Euros, they have tended to lose semis and finals as a nation.
He has promised to play attacking football and has changed to a back four after Louis Van Gaal’s preference of using a back five out of possession.
Croatia topped their Nations League group by finishing one point ahead of Denmark and also ahead of France. They scraped through their 2022 FIFA World Cup group by drawing 0-0 with Belgium in their final match. They drew 1-1 with Japan and Brazil before winning on penalties in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals.
Vatreni lost 3-0 to Argentina in the semi-final before Morocco 2-1 in the third-place playoff. In their opening Euro 2024 qualifier, they drew 1-1 at home with Wales after conceding in the 93rd minute. They followed that disappointment by going to Turkey and winning 2-0 as Mateo Kovacic scored a brace.
Croatia Team News
Coach Zlatko Dalić has a very settled squad and the XI doesn’t change much. Luka Modric is still going strong with Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic in the midfield three. The front three tends to change from game to game. Ivan Perisic looks a sure starter as left winger. Andrej Kramaric could play centrally or wide.
The final front-three position will go to either Mario Pasalic as a narrow right-sided attacker. Another option is Marko Livaja as a central striker with Kramaric on the flank. The fullback areas are still uncertain. Josip Juranovic is battling Bayern Munich man Josip Stanišić at right back. Borna Barisic and Borna Sosa will compete to play at left back. The former started in Turkey and could keep his place.
Croatia will play their usual game, to dominate possession in midfield and control the game that way. This generation won’t get many more chances to win something.
They will be eager to reach the final and to win it having lost a World Cup semi-final and a final in recent years.
Netherlands have lost just 1 of their last 30 matches
The Dutch saw a 28-match unbeaten run under Van Gaal ended under Koeman (4-0 loss to France in March)
Croatia have lost just once in 15 matches
Croatia have conceded in 5 of their last 6 matches
The two previous meetings between these sides have seen Over 2.5 goals
This match would have been very difficult to call at the World Cup last year. However, it feels like the Dutch have downgraded on their coach since losing Van Gaal. These sides have so often been very close to winning major tournaments without getting over the line. I am backing a game with goals and Croatia to spring a surprise in Rotterdam.