Croatia will take on France in the second round of the UEFA Nations League A Group 1 at the Gradski stadion u Poljudu in Split, Croatia. Both sides surprisingly lost their first encounters against Austria and Denmark respectively. This clash between Croatia and France will essentially be a repeat of the 2018 World Cup Final in Moscow, Russia and both sides will be aiming to recover after their underwhelming and poor starts to the UEFA Nations League 2022-23 campaign.
On Friday, Croatia were up against an Austrian side who are on the verge of making 10 matches unbeaten across all competitions. They ended up achieving exactly that as Ralf Rangnick’s side humbled Croatia across every department of the pitch and put three goals past the hosts without any reply. The Chequered Ones had no answers to the questions asked by the visitors in Osijek and the eventual result reflected the gulf in quality between the two teams on the turf.
Marko Arnautovic, Michael Gregoritsch, and Marcel Sabitzer all found the back of the net for Austria, which ended Croatia’s positive streak of matches in some fashion. It was the hosts’ first defeat on home turf in any competition since November of 2020, and the result is hardly reassuring as they will embark on another journey to take another shot at the World Cup title after their heroics in 2018 which saw them falling one step short of glory.
The 3-0 hammering at the hands of Austria, unsurprisingly, leaves Croatia at the bottom of League A Group 1. However, there is still a lot of football in store in the Nations League, and therefore fears of relegation to Group B is still unlikely and precautionary at the moment. With that being said, France and Denmark are not the easiest opponents to navigate past either, and Zlatko Dalic will be hoping to have learned his lesson.
Before being handed a lesson in football by Austria, the Chequered Ones had managed to find the back of the net in all of their previous matches in the UEFA Nations League. It was also the fourth time in a row in this particular competition that the 2018 World Cup finalists conceded at least two goals.
Of course, Croatia are not in an easy group as the likes of France, Denmark and Austria hardly make for smooth sailing in League A. However, three losses in a row on home soil in the UEFA Nations League is a poor reflection of the talented group of players that helm the national side, and Zlatko Dalic must find a way to ready his men for battle in a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final. It goes without saying that Croatia will have revenge on their minds when they step out onto the field to take on France in Monday’s crunch battle.
France were without the services of head coach Didier Deschamps in the previous match. The World Cup winner was left in mourning and had left the camp following the demise of his father. Despite his absence, France seemed to be set to claim a narrow victory against Denmark, with Ballon d’Or favourite Karim Benzema staking another claim for the top prize with yet another spectacular goal.
However, salt was well and truly rubbed into the wounds when Kylian Mbappe and Raphael Varane had to come off the field with injuries. The momentum shifted in favour of Denmark when Andreas Cornelius came off the bench and grabbed a brace of goals in the second half to help his country end France’s seven-match winning streak across all competitions.
The loss to Denmark was France’s first since their surprising Euro 2020 exit at the hands of Switzerland. Therefore, it is no cause for panic for the reigning world and UEFA Nations League champions given the unusual circumstances surrounding the nature of the loss. France will be getting ready to prepare for the first of two important clashes with Croatia. They are currently third in the League A Group 2 and will be hoping to rejuvenate their bid to win back-to-back crowns in this competition.
The silver lining from the previous clash was the fact that Les Blues at least managed to keep up their magnificent streak of scoring in every single match since Finland pulled off a major upset and handed them a shock loss in a friendly in November 2020. The World champions have now found the back of the net in each of the last 21 matches. They are also on a 5 match winning streak away from home in the UEFA Nations League at the moment.
That wonderful run of form also includes a 2-1 victory against Croatia on their own home soil way back in October 2020 after they got the better of the Chequered Ones 4-2 on home soil – a scoreline identical to the 2018 World Cup final – and the hosts are still awaiting their first chance of winning against France since becoming an independent nation.
CRO vs FRA, UEFA Nations League
Date: 7th June, 2022
Time: 12:15 AM IST
Venue: Gradski stadion u Poljudu, Split, Croatia
Croatia Nations League form:
Croatia form (all competitions):
France Nations League form:
France form (all competitions):
Croatia wins: 0
France wins: 6
Croatia Team News: Croatian midfield maestro Luka Modric, who recently spearheaded Real Madrid to their 14th Champions League triumph in the final against Liverpool, was fit enough to come off the bench during Friday’s loss to Austria. However, Ivan Perisic, who recently completed his transfer from Inter to Tottenham Hotspur, missed out due to injury and remains in doubt.
Josko Gvardiol and Sime Vrsaljko had also been suffering from issues of their own before the opening fixture while head coach Dalic had also admitted that Modric and midfield dynamo Marcelo Brozovic will not able to complete all four matches this month owing to their exhaustive schedule and fitness concerns.
Brozovic was given the opportunity to complete the entire 90 minutes in the Croatian engine room against Austria and despite previous doubts surrounding his fitness. However, he’s likely to be rested here with Modric taking up the spot in midfield with former Real Madrid teammate Mateo Kovacic partnering him.
Meanwhile, the likes of Borna Barisic and Mislav Orsic could also find minutes in this fixture. Mario Kramaric will be leading the frontline as usual.
France Team News: As highlighted before, France suffered heavily when two of their most important players in Raphael Varane and Kylian Mbappe had to come off the pitch owing to injuries. While Varane picked up a hamstring issue, PSG superstar Mbappe suffered a knee injury and had to be taken off.
While the extent of their issues is not clear at the moment, Didier Deschamps’ assistant Guy Stephan, who is currently managing the side in the absence of Deschamps, will be expected to be without the services of the duo in this clash. This could result in Presnel Kimpembe and Christopher Nkunku being handed starts on Monday. Nkunku, especially, is an exciting talent and he had a breakthrough season with RB Leipzig in Bundesliga. He will be hoping to showcase his skills and talents on the big stage as European heavyweight clubs continue to follow him with plenty of interest.
France will also have to be careful in the way they handle N’Golo Kante given the packed schedule of fixtures as well as his recent struggles to stay match fit. Therefore, Adrien Rabiot or Matteo Guendouzi might find themselves with a surprising start. Karim Benzema, probably the most in-form player in the world, will spearhead the attack as usual.
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Vida, Caleta-Car, Barisic; Modric, Kovacic; Vlasic, Pasalic, Orsic; Kramaric
France possible starting lineup:
Maignan; Kimpembe, L. Hernandez, Kounde; Clauss, Tchouameni, Rabiot, T. Hernandez; Griezmann; Benzema, Nkunku
Despite being without the services of Raphael Varane and Kylian Mbappe, France have more than enough quality given the potential of Christopher Nkunku as well as the majestic form of Karim Benzema. It is enough to strike fear into the heart of any defence, let alone one that got carved open so seamlessly by Austria just a few days ago.
While Croatia will be more intent on keeping a tighter and more disciplined backline and rectifying their mistakes from the previous fixture, France’s hot streak in front of the goal doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Les Blues have never been defeated by the Chequered Ones before and that streak also is unlikely to come to an end.