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Netherlands v Croatia
The UEFA Nations League has become a staple of the footballing calendar in recent years, one of the few innovations from UEFA that have worked, allowing the top teams to compete against each other in a more competitive environment as opposed to friendlies.
The Nations League qualification stage was a gruelling one for footballers, Holland captain Virgil van Dijk was amongst those to speak out about playing four matches after a season in which footballers played catch-up following COVID. And yet, his side flew out of the blocks and are now looking to secure their second Nations League title. They face stiff competition in Croatia, who have finished as World Cup runners-up and semi-finalists in the last two tournaments.
The Netherlands were defeated by finalists in 2019 while Croatia will be looking for their first silverware as a sole nation so there is plenty to play for. To help with your bet builder predictions, we’ve provided the lowdown on the game, what you can expect, and our own Netherlands v Croatia bet builder tips.
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Dumfries enjoying attacking freedom for the Dutch
As noted above, Virgin van Dijk was open about how he felt about four Nations League matches being played after a slog of a campaign. Ronald Koeman could scarcely have walked back into a more awkward position as Netherlands manager with many of his top stars involved in a ridiculously high number of matches.
Any concerns were soon wiped away. They spanked a star-studded Belgium on their own turf before doing the double over Wales and picking up four points from two games against Poland, securing comfortably the best points total of any League A team.
The Netherlands does not win a prize that often, so we would like to take this opportunity. We play at home this year, of course we’re eager to win this cup, we have to win this cup.”Dutch coach Ronald Koeman on his nation’s hopes of picking up silverware in the Nations League
Like with his club side Internazionale, Denzel Dumfries receives a lot of attacking freedom with Holland, allowed to push forward both in and out of possession. The powerful right-wing-back has played 4.5 90s in the UEFA Nations League, having six shots, three on target, and scoring twice. His impact doesn’t stop there, forcing the referee to blow his whistle at least twice in all five matches and being fouled on nine occasions too.
Cody Gakpo exploded onto the scene for mainstream viewers at the World Cup but his story was already beginning with the Netherlands before that, managing three goals and assists in 333 minutes in the UEFA Nations League, taking at least two shots in all three starts, and a shot on target in two of those.
Netherlands team news
International breaks are rarely easy to select for, especially at this time of year.
Ronald Koeman has made bold decisions in his time as manager, including a preference not to play Matthijs de Ligt of Bayern Munich, who hasn’t been called up at all. Talismanic forward Memphis Depay, Internazionale centre-back Stefan De Vrij and Ajax man Davy Klaasen have also missed out.
There will be a lot of familiar faces, however. Virgil van Dijk dons the captain’s armband for Holland, Champions League winner Nathan Ake is involved while Frenkie De Jong plays ahead of him in midfield. Ex-Premier League stars Marten De Roon, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Steven Bergwijn could start too.
Croatian legend Modric still a threat to the opposition
When Croatia lost their opening game of the Nations League 3-0 against Austria, survival looked to be the main objective and though a 1-1 draw with France was creditable, they had rested players and Zlatko Dalic was left with three away trips to navigate to secure their place in section A.
They responded magnificently. Mario Palasic and Luka Modric’s goals were enough to see off Denmark and France in their own backyards. They beat Denmark 2-1 in September to put them top of the group and they stayed there thanks to a 3-1 win in Austria, Modric again leading the way.
We want to do our best and have a chance at another great result. We have the qualities to do that.”Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic on his aspirations for Croatia to win the Nations League
How can you discuss Croatia without discussing Luka Modric? The Real Madrid maestro has been one of the finest midfielders of his generation and is a legend in his homeland for what he has done on the pitch. Not only has he scored twice in their Nations League run, but he has also had a shot and a shot on target in his last five appearances.
Allowing Modric to do what he does best is Marcelo Brozovic. The Internazionale man comes into this game on the back of being a Champions League final loser but he remains an important presence for Croatia, so much so that he started all four of their June Nations League fixtures. In his five starts, he committed 13 fouls.
Croatia team news
There has been a wonderful consistency about the Croatia team over time thanks to the high-quality nature of players who don’t seem to age.
It means that once again we get to see the effervescent Luka Modric pull the strings in midfield, likely to be supported by Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Internazionale’s Marcelo Brozovic. Mario Pasalic and Ivan Perisic have been around for a long time too.
New faces will receive an opportunity, however. Dejan Lovren has retired and Josko Gvardiol is injured so Martin Erlic and Josip Sutalo could be given opportunities to establish themselves at the back.
Netherlands v Croatia Cheat Sheet
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Netherlands v Croatia bet builder tips
Netherlands v Croatia
Luka Modric is the man everything goes through for Croatia and it’s not uncommon to see him dictating play from deep and then finding himself in and around the box on the end of a chance.
Modric played six UEFA Nations League matches and had a shot on target in five of them. At the World Cup, he managed a shot on target in the only game he played against fellow European opposition. In March, he mustered a shot on target against Wales.
Notable for Modric too, he is often on set-piece and penalty duty, so if he doesn’t find the net from open play, he may well find himself taking a free-kick in a dangerous position or lining up from 12 yards.
Kovacic was expected to be the eventual replacement for one of Rakitic or Modric and though the Croatian hasn’t quite hit those levels, he remains an intelligent, dribbly midfielder that leaves you with the sense he could do more.
Kovacic seemingly lacks the accuracy of Modric when it comes to having a go at goal, but he does like to let fly. The Chelsea midfielder, averaged over a shot per 90 minutes in the Nations League group stage and has since taken fly in five of his last seven starts, including five shots in the two March qualifiers.
While Kovacic’s role at club level is often part of a deeper midfield two, he is often tasked with staying higher up the pitch at international level with Brozovic and Modric deeper, so the chances of him taking a strike at goal are higher.
Cody Gakpo is an exciting, up-and-coming forward with big potential. But you can’t be a forward these days if you’re not willing to do the hard yards, and that includes committing fouls to stop the opposition from controlling the game from deep.
Gakpo is doing that for Holland. In his 11 starts for his country, he has committed 15 fouls, including at least one in nine, only failing to do so against Wales, perhaps the one nation they have played with little concern about playing through the thirds.
This isn’t just a Netherlands thing either. Gakpo is asked to do similar work at club level and has committed 26 fouls in 21 appearances or 16.2 90s.
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