Croatia and Austria met on Sunday night at the Ernst Happel stadium for the last match in the UEFA Nations League group stage.
The Austrian Football Association announced that more than 40,000 tickets had been sold, but the bigger news was that around 20,000 fans would be cheering for Croatia, even though Austria predicted 2,700 tickets for the visiting team.
After beating Denmark in Zagreb on Thursday, the road to the Nations League Finals was clear. Croatia would secure first place in Group 1 and the final tournament with the victory against Austria. With a loss or a draw, Croatia would also advance, however, only if Denmark did not beat France in Copenhagen at the same time.
Recall, Croatia defeated Denmark twice and France once, after opening the competition with an unpleasant defeat in Osijek against Austria. It was Austria’s only victory in the group, while they took a point against France and lost their other three matches.
Austria: Lindner, Trimmel, Posch, Danso, Alaba, Baumgartner, Seiwald, X.Schlager, Sabitzer, Arnautović, Gregoritsch
Croatia: Livaković, Stanišić, Lovren, Gvardiol, Barišić, Modrić, Brozović, Kovačić, Vlašić, Budimir, Perišić
Croatia’s first attack came in the 3rd minute, which resulted in a corner kick. Modric found Brozovic, who missed the ball and gave Austria a quick counterattack.
Croatia regained possession, and Perisic moved quickly up the left wing before cutting into the box but failed to get a shot off.
Croatia’s brilliant start of the game was rewarded with a goal in the 6th minute. Vlasic masterfully won the ball in the midfield to find captain Luka Modric to score for 0:1 Croatia!
But a wake-up call for Croatia came two minutes later. A hospital ball from Stanisic to an Austria player found Baumgartner for 1:1.
More bad news came for Croatia in the 16th minute. Brozovic overextended his left leg and immediately dropped to the ground. The player called to be subbed off for what looked like a hamstring injury. Lovro Majer was subbed on in the 18th minute.
Arnautovic weakly shot at Livakovic from 20 meters out in the 22nd minute.
Austria’s best chance came a minute later. Baumgartner shot between Croatia’s stoppers and missed just wide of the goal. A lucky miss for Croatia.
Austria possessed well and had another close chance in the 35th minute. A misunderstanding between Livaković and Gvardiol saw them awkwardly collide. The ball came to Baumgartner, who turned to shoot but luckily went over the goal.
Austria looked better as the half progressed, and Livakovic brilliantly saved Croatia from a goal after Arnautovic was one-on-one with the Croatia keeper.
Vlasic brought some life back for Croatia with a shot in the 45th minute. Four minutes of stoppage time were added to the half. The match went into halftime at 1:1.
The second half started without any changes for either team. Perisic was shown a yellow card in the 47th minute.
Budimir fell in the penalty area in the 53rd minute, but there wasn’t enough contact to be called for a penalty.
Croatia attacked well in the 55th minute. Modric played through to Vlasic, who crossed in the box to Budimir, but the Austria defense prevented a shot.
Austria was awarded a free kick in the 58th minute but shot into Croatia’s wall. The ref called for another free kick for Austria, this time in closer range to the goal. Lovren was shown a yellow card for intentionally playing with his hand. A double block by the Croatia defense stopped the play.
Dalic subbed on Marko Livaja for Ante Budimmir and Borna Sosa for Borna Barisic in the 62nd minute. Wober, Lainer, and Cham entered for Arnautović, Posch, and Trimmel.
A great attack for Croatia saw Kovacic get a shot off which was deflected for a corner.
Another incredible save by Livakovic from a Gregoritsch header.
Perisic was one-on-one with the Austria defense in the 66th minute and forced a corner.
But then it finally happened. Croatia’s midfield found Perisic on the left, who crossed far post to Livaja. Livaja moved behind the Austria defender and headed near post into the goal for 1:2 Croatia in the 69th minute!
And then another Croatia corner in the 71st minute. Modric played short to Majer, who found Lovren alone far post. A diving header into the opposite side of the goal, and it was 1:3 for Croatia!
Croatia played smart in the last 10 minutes, keeping possession of the ball without any unnecessary risks.
Kramarić and Pašalić were subbed on for Kovačić and Vlašić in the 84th minute.
Three minutes of stoppage time were added to the end of the match and the match ended 1:3 for Croatia!
With this result, Croatia finishes at the top of Group 1 and advances to the UEFA Nations League Finals! The final tournament will be held from 14 to 18 June 2023 and will feature the four group winners of Nations League A.
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