UEFA Nations League final four: Who is in it? When is it? Where does it take place?

0
234

Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands will line up in next June’s UEFA Nations League finals after topping their groups.

Giacomo Raspadori was on target in Italy's decisive victory in Hungary

Giacomo Raspadori was on target in Italy’s decisive victory in HungaryGetty Images

Italy have joined Croatia and the Netherlands in becoming the first sides to book their place in the 2023 UEFA Nations League final four.

The Azzurri clinched their spot thanks to a 2-0 triumph at previous Group A3 leaders Hungary, leapfrogging their hosts thanks to goals from Giacomo Raspadori and Federico Dimarco. A day before, the Netherlands secured their ticket following a 1-0 win against neighbours Belgium, while Croatia were made to work hard in Austria, where Marko Livaja and Dejan Lovren hit second-half efforts to seal a crucial 3-1 success.

The semi-finals will be played on 14 and 15 June 2023, with the final and third-place play-off to follow on 18 June. The hosts will be appointed in January 2023; the four sides in Group A4 – Belgium, Poland, Netherlands and Wales – all declared an interest.

Croatia

How they qualified

Not many gave Croatia much hope when they were thumped 3-0 at home by Austria in their opening Group A1 game. The outlook wasn’t much improved by a 1-1 draw with France in Split, but Zlatko Dalić’s charges have shown their mettle, with two victories against Denmark sandwiching a fine 1-0 win in France. They then held their nerve in Austria to prevail 3-1 thanks to a pair of vital goals in the last 21 minutes. “In the end, the win was deserved,” said captain Modrić. “I am very happy we are in the top four.”

Highlights: Austria 1-3 Croatia

Austria 1-3 Croatia

03/06/2022 Croatia 0-3 Austria
06/06/2022 Croatia 1-1 France
10/06/2022 Denmark 0-1 Croatia
13/06/2022 France 0-1 Croatia
22/09/2022 Croatia 2-1 Denmark
25/09/2022 Austria 1-3 Croatia

Tactics

Dalić is most comfortable using a 4-3-3 formation, occasionally switching to 4-2-3-1 – albeit with little difference between the two. The coach rotated a lot during the league phase, though he stuck with a midfield trio of Modrić, Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović, plus Ivan Perišić on the left. Elsewhere, Dalić experimented as he looked for solutions up front, on the right and in defence.

Highlights: Croatia 2-1 Denmark

Key player

Even at 37, there is little doubt that everything still depends on the form of midfield maestro Modrić. Croatia’s regal skipper still retains his magic and capacity to dictate matches, with his passes sprayed around with supreme intelligence and his feel for the game on a different level.

One to watch

Joško Gvardiol could soon become one of the most sought-after defenders in the world. The Leipzig centre-back is just 20, but his reactions and maturity are already remarkable, especially when he is under pressure. The future of Croatia, he has emerged as a key pillar in Dalić’s team.

Did you know?

With his opener against Austria on Matchday 6, Modrić became the only Croatia player to register more than one goal in their current Nations League campaign.

Italy

How they qualified

Paired with EURO 2020 final opponents England and Germany in a tough section, Roberto Mancini’s side restored some pride following their shock loss to North Macedonia in the World Cup play-offs. A 5-2 defeat in Germany on Matchday 4 was a blow, but the Azzurri came good with back-to-back wins in September, Giacomo Raspadori scoring in both.

Highlights: Hungary 0-2 Italy

Hungary 0-2 Italy

04/06/2022 Italy 1-1 Germany
07/06/2022 Italy 2-1 Hungary
11/06/2022 England 0-0 Italy
14/06/2022 Germany 5-2 Italy
23/09/2022 Italy 1-0 England
26/09/2022 Hungary 0-2 Italy

Tactics

In qualifying, Roberto Mancini mostly used the 4-3-3 formation which led the Azzurri to triumph at EURO 2020 but switched to a 3-5-2 for the the final two games of the group stage, picking up wins and clean sheets against England and Hungary.

Key player

The Azzurri won their last two games in the group without the injured Marco Verratti but, when fit, the Paris midfielder gives Mancini’s team crucial intensity, energy and technique.

One to watch

Raspadori scored in the September wins against England and Hungary. At 22, the Napoli forward could be the solution to Italy’s attacking problems with his never-say-die attitude, creativity and lethal finish.

Did you know?

In decisive qualifying game against Hungary, Salernitana right-back Pasquale Mazzocchi became the 51st player to make his Italy debut under Mancini. Only Arrigo Sacchi (55) has had more debutants as Azzurri coach.

Netherlands

How they qualified

The only side to remain unbeaten through League A, the Netherlands started as they meant to go on by thumping neighbours Belgium 4-1 away. It hasn’t all been plain sailing since: the Oranje came from 2-0 down to draw with Poland, while both wins against Wales came courtesy of added-time goals. Yet the Dutch always found a way, and sealed their passage with a 1-0 defeat of Belgium in Amsterdam.

Highlights: Netherlands 1-0 Belgium

Netherlands 1-0 Belgium

03/06/2022 Belgium 1-4 Netherlands
08/06/2022 Wales 1-2 Netherlands
11/06/2022 Netherlands 2-2 Poland
14/06/2022 Netherlands 3-2 Wales
22/09/2022 Poland 0-2 Netherlands
25/09/2022 Netherlands 1-0 Belgium

Tactics

A back three, wing-backs who are a vital element of the attack, a midfield diamond with the point in front, and two strikers – usually Steven Bergwijn and Memphis Depay – who are fast, mobile and almost impossible to pin down. And, of course, a team full of players who can comfortably interchange positions.

Key player

Van Dijk is still the rock on which Dutch success is built. A colossus of a defender, a born leader, and occasional scorer of vital goals.