Croatia, Dutch advance in Nations League
Croatia and the Netherlands finished warming up for the World Cup in style yesterday by winning their last Nations League games to qualify for the Final Four tournament next year.
Croatia topped Group A1 by winning 3-1 in Austria to relegate the hosts to the second tier of the Nations League, while the unbeaten Dutch defeated visiting Belgium 1-0 and won Group A4 with 16 points – six more than second-place Belgium.
Defending Nations League and World Cup champions France lost 2-0 in Denmark but avoided relegation because of Austria’s defeat.
It was the last match for the World Cup-bound teams before the competition starts in Qatar on November 20. Qatar are in the Netherlands’ group at the World Cup along with Ecuador and Senegal.
The French and the Danes will meet again in Qatar with Tunisia and Australia also in their group.
The World Cup could be the last international tournament for 37-year-old Croatia midfielder Luka Modric, and he is in good form. The Croats led after six minutes in Vienna when their veteran captain was left unmarked inside the penalty area and rifled home.
Austria equalised three minutes later through midfielder Christoph Baumgartner’s glancing header, but second-half goals from forward Marko Livaja and central defender Dejan Lovren sealed a memorable win for Croatia, whose World Cup group includes Belgium, Canada, and Morocco.
Denmark finished in second place on 12 points and one point behind Croatia after beating a sloppy and injury-depleted France side 2-0 at home.
Striker Kasper Dolberg fired the Danes ahead in the 34th minute and midfielder Andreas Skov Olsen made it 2-0 soon after as France’s inexperienced defence failed to deal with a corner and exposed No. 3 goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
France woke up in the second half but star striker Kylian Mbappe fluffed a one-on-one chance against goalkeeper Kaspel Schmeichel – Dolberg’s club teammate at Nice – and had two other tame efforts saved in quick succession.
Les Bleus finished third, one point ahead of the Austrians, but coach Didier Deschamps’ team won only one of their six games and scored just five goals – the least in the group.
The Belgians needed to win by three goals away to the Netherlands and lost 1-0, with Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk heading in the only goal after 73 minutes.