It sounds simple, but the fact that Croatia are so tough, like biting into a chocolate bar from the back of the fridge, they are almost an impossible opponent to beat.
They remind me also of watching nature TV shows, looking on as a heron tries their best to bite and poke its way into the juicy bits of a turtle at the side of a lake. With the little reptile huddled away in his shell, eventually the heron gives up and just flies away. Well, Croatia are the football equivalent.
Eventually they force you, after you have thrown punches for 120 minutes, with no more energy left, to fly away and allow them to win.
Luka Modric kept flying passes into space with eagle-eyed accuracy even when the referee was huffing and puffing to get home and in the bath; what a show of endurance from the veteran.
Croatia had the strength in depth off the bench that was the key in extra-time, with Koeman’s subs failing to make an impact and Croatia’s Plan B, C and D all working exceptionally well. In the end, they were worthy winners of the game as the Netherlands seemed to run out of steam and legs and mental fortitude to go any more time against this perfectly evolved creature in red and white.
Spain or Italy will have an extremely tough task breaking down their defences and dealing with their attack, whoever makes it to the final.
“He can be the one to help us win the gold medal,” Dalic told reporters, before addressing Modric’s future. “Luka will decide for himself after the finals, but with him we are way better, we have far more quality.”
The Dutch, hosting the four-nation tournament, had forced extra time with a last-gasp equaliser to ensure it finished 2-2 after 90 minutes despite being largely outplayed in front of their home fans at the Feyenoord Stadium.
“There were clear moments that showed where we need to improve,” Koeman told reporters. “Croatia were just a bit smarter, a bit more secure in possession, and overall they deserved the win.”
Donyell Malen handed the Netherlands a 34th-minute lead before Andrej Kramaric equalised from the penalty spot 10 minutes into the second half.
Croatia then went ahead through Mario Pasalic in the 73rd minute before Noa Lang side-footed the ball into the roof of the net to equalise six minutes into stoppage time.
The Netherlands’ first goal came against the run of play, but at the end of a swift series of passes that saw both quick feet and precise thinking.
Cody Gakpo set it up by winning possession and five passes later, Mats Wieffer teed up an unmarked Malen to fire home.
But it was the street-smarts of Croatia captain Modric that got them level, stealing the ball in the Dutch penalty area from Gakpo, whose instinctive reaction was to tug at the 37-year-old veteran and send him tumbling to the ground to win a penalty.
Kramaric tucked it away comfortably, after which Luka Ivanusec played a pass into Pasalic, that he fired home on the turn despite a host of Dutch defenders around him to give Croatia a 2-1 lead.
But a desperate last attack saw the Dutch take advantage of Croatia’s failure to clear their lines with Lang perfectly placed to equalise and force the game into extra time.
Midfielder Luka Modric, who also plays for Real Madrid, is coming off a solid season. In 33 La Liga games, Modric scored four goals and added four assists. The 37-year-old, who has played professionally since 2003, just completed his 11th season with Real Madrid. In 327 career league games, he has scored 26 goals. Including international competitions, Modric has been a force, scoring 98 total goals in 821 appearances.
Also helping power Croatia is midfielder Mario Pasalic. The 28-year-old is a member of Atalanta in Serie A, where he made 32 appearances, including 24 starts, scoring five goals and adding two assists. He took 32 shots, including eight on target. In six Nations League matches, he has one goal in six appearances. In five seasons with Atalanta, he has 38 goals in 162 league matches.
As the United States prepares to face Mexico in Concacaf Nations League (catch all the action only on Paramount+), there is a growing sense of anticipation as it’s expected that 21-year-old Folarin Balogun will make his debut after committing to represent the Red, White, and Blue. While he only has training sessions under his belt, the hype is not restricted to the fans, as many of his new teammates are echoing the same idea. Nobody can wait to see America’s new striker on the field.
While that might only raise expectations for his performance as the team desperately searches for a number nine to lead the line, hearing that from Balogun’s teammates is exactly what you look for at this stage for a player whose development has been quite unique in the global game. After coming through the Arsenal academy with Yunus Musah, to various loans and representing England at the youth level, Balogun was able to find consistency in a breakout season with Reims in Ligue 1 that saw him score 21 goals becoming the first U.S. men’s international to score 20 or more goals in a top five league. Let’s break down what you need to know about America’s new star striker.
That he did, and by the time he turned 20 he was dominating the Premier League 2 youth competition, scoring 13 goals in 11 games at the start of the 2021-22 season, having already enjoyed some impressive run outs with the first team in the Europa League group stages. For a moment the path opened up for Balogun in the Arsenal first team, positive COVID-19 tests for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette and an illness for Nketiah forcing Mikel Arteta to throw him in at the deep end on the opening day of the season at Brentford. That was a step too far for Balogun, but it brought renewed attention on his role with the Gunners at a time when his contract was approaching its expiry point. For a time it seemed like the youngster was bound for the exit door, Brentford and Sheffield United had bids rejected and European clubs including Stuttgart lined up to secure a pre-contract agreement with him. It took a four year deal worth in excess of £30,000 a week, an almighty deal for a player who has played only twice in the Premier League, to get Balogun signed on the dotted line.
From there onwards Balogun and Arsenal set about finding the game time he would need if he was to ever challenge Gabriel Jesus and Nketiah for a place in Arteta’s XI. A challenging loan spell with Championship side Middlesbrough brought three goals and three assists in 21 appearances. At youth level Balogun had been able to assert himself on smaller defenders, dropping down the English pyramid meant learning how to score when center backs could simply bully you off the ball. The summer of 2022 saw the striker take his development into his own hand, contracting individual skill coaches who would drill him constantly in one facet above all else, bursting in behind the opposition backline and converting. He could have showcased those skills on another loan in the second tier or indeed as Ivan Toney’s backup on loan at Brentford. Instead, he chose to look further afield and made the move across the Channel to Reims.
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