ROTTERDAM-- Croatia scored twice in extra time to beat the Netherlands 4-2 in their Nations League semi-final in Rotterdam on Wednesday and advance to Sunday’s decider. Croatia will play either Italy or Spain, who face off in the second semi-final in Enschede on Thursday, for a first major title as they continued their form from last year’s World Cup in Qatar, where they finished third. Substitute Bruno Petkovic curled home a stunning shot from the edge of the penalty area eight minutes into extra time to put them on their way and Luka Modric made sure of Croatia’s triumph with a late penalty, their second of the game.
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. Donyell Malen handed the hosts 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 who went 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.
Parity, however, did not last long. Modric’s pass put Petkovic through on goal and he curled the ball into the net with a shot worthy of winning any cup tie. Modric completed the win with the late spotkick to seal another outstanding individual performance. The Netherlands now have to play in the third-place playoff game against Thursday’s losers in Enschede on Sunday. The final is in Rotterdam later that day.