The Hard Tackle lists three players who can singlehandedly influence the tie when Croatia and Spain clash in the UEFA Nations League final.The third edition of the UEFA Nations League is nearing its climactic end. The Netherlands and Italy will meet in the third-place playoff on Sunday evening before the curtains fall on the 2022/23 version with the clash between Croatia and Spain at De Kuip.
Croatia can be the unlikely success story if they win the UEFA Nations League on Sunday. Success has often eluded the generation of match-winners, although they have come close at the World Cup. Vatreni finished runners-up in 2018 before claiming third place in 2022. And Zlatko Dalic’s men have the chance to script history on Sunday.
Spain will be standing in Croatia’s way, with Luis de la Fuente looking to change the team’s fortunes. La Roja promised much under Luis Enrique but failed to deliver the goods at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2020. And winning the UEFA Nations League might herald the start of a new generation of winners.
Fixtures featuring Spain and Croatia often produce a lot of goalmouth action. So slim margins will likely determine the outcome. And with that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three players who can singlehandedly influence the tie at De Kuip on Sunday.
It is not often that a defender takes up a spot in such lists. But we begin our feature with a centre-back looking to turn around his fortunes while delivering a trophy to his national side. We are talking about Aymeric Laporte.
The Spanish international saw his stock plummet this past season as he became a bit-part player for Manchester City. He barely played a part in the English club’s historic treble-winning campaign. So he has a crucial summer transfer window ahead of him.
Laporte has no shortage of interest in his services, with Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Tottenham, and Barcelona pursuing him. And considering performances on the international stage often sway clubs to launch the offensive for players, the Manchester City defender has a big game ahead of him.
In addition, a colossal display at the back can contain a tricky Croatian attack and take Spain close to winning the UEFA Nations League. Considering La Roja fell at the last hurdle in the previous final, Sunday will provide a chance to make amends.
We move on to Croatia for the second candidate on our list. And while players like Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, and Andrej Kramaric are viable options, we have gone with an ageless wonder. We are talking about Luka Modric.
The 37-year-old is showing no signs of age catching up with him. And he is seemingly becoming better with every passing year, ageing like fine wine. In addition, he has arguably been Croatia’s best player during the 2022/23 UEFA Nations League.
With Modric leading by example, Croatia’s run to the UEFA Nations League final has been a sight to behold. Interestingly, the veteran midfielder is also the top scorer for Vatreni through the second edition of the Nations League. So he will provide a goal threat on Sunday.
Most importantly, the Real Madrid midfielder needs to be on his A-Game to help Croatia win the midfield battle. If that happens, Croatia can have the upper hand for much of the proceedings on Sunday. Expect another colossal masterclass from the baby-faced wonder.
Our list ends with a player coming into his own in his thirties, much like Luka Modric. But he will unlikely start the game on Sunday, with captain Alvaro Morata leading the line for Spain. We are talking about Joselu.
The Spanish striker has become a prolific goal-getter in the last few seasons. And while his clubs have faced the relegation battle, he has done his job to the T, finding the back of the net as much as he can. That was also true this past season, as he was third in the race for the Pichichi in La Liga, only for Espanyol to go down.
However, Joselu’s performances have earned him a move to Real Madrid this summer. Just a few minor details remain before he replaces Karim Benzema and Mariano Diaz at the Santiago Bernabeu. And with Real Madrid unlikely to sign another striker, he might be the first-choice centre-forward for Los Blancos next season.
As for his displays for Spain, Joselu has brought his form to the international stage. And he scored the match-winner as Spain eked out a narrow 2-1 win over Italy in the semi-finals. Another such display will help Spain win the UEFA Nations League for the first time. So an important game beckons the 33-year-old.