In a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final, Croatia and France will both be aiming to bounce back from poor starts in League A Group 1 of the UEFA Nations League during Monday’s clash at Stadion Poljud. Zlatko Dalic’s side were thumped 3-0 by Austria on Friday night, while the Didier Deschamps-less Bleus were stunned 2-1 by Denmark on their own turf. Entering Friday’s Nations League opener with Austria seeking to make it 10 games unbeaten in all competitions, Croatia were humbled by Ralf Rangnick’s team in Osijek, as the visitors put three goals past the Chequered Ones without reply.
Marko Arnautovic, Michael Gregoritsch and Marcel Sabitzer were all on target for Austria to end Croatia’s positive streak in some fashion, which signalled the hosts’ first home defeat in any competition since November 2020 – hardly reassuring before another shot at glory in the World Cup. That 3-0 loss unsurprisingly leaves Croatia at the foot of the rankings with a lot of football still to be played in the Nations League, so fears of an unlikely relegation to League B should not come into Dalic’s mind just yet, but Denmark are not an easy side to navigate past either.
The Chequered Ones had managed to find the back of the net in all of their previous Nations League games before being taught a footballing lesson by Austria, which also marked the fourth match in a row in the competition that Dalic’s side had shipped at least two goals. The calibre of Croatia’s opponents during their time in League A must of course be taken into consideration, but it is now three home defeats in a row for Dalic’s men in the Nations League, and France also head into Monday’s crunch battle with a point of their own to prove.
In the absence of the mourning Didier Deschamps, who left the camp following the death of his father, France were seemingly on course for a narrow victory against Denmark after Karim Benzema staked another claim for the Ballon d’Or with a sublime opener. However, salt was well and truly rubbed into the wounds after Kylian Mbappe and Raphael Varane left the field with injuries, as Andreas Cornelius came off the bench to bag a second-half brace for Denmark and end France’s seven-game winning streak in all tournaments.
A first defeat since their Euro 2020 exit to Switzerland is no cause for panic for the reigning world and Nations League champions, who prepare for the first of two imminent clashes with Croatia down in third in the rankings during their bid to scoop back-to-back crowns in the competition. France at least managed to keep up their magnificent streak of scoring in every game since their shock friendly loss to Finland in November 2020 – now finding the back of the net in each of their last 21 games – while their winning streak away from home in the Nations League now stands at five games.
That run includes a 2-1 success on Croatia’s turf in October 2020 after they got the better of the Chequered Ones 4-2 on home soil – an identical scoreline to that of the 2018 World Cup final – and the hosts are still waiting for their first victory over Les Bleus as an independent nation. Croatia lynchpin Luka Modric was fit enough to come off the bench during Friday’s loss to Austria after his Champions League final exploits, but Tottenham Hotspur’s Ivan Perisic missed out due to injury and remains a doubt. Josko Gvardiol and Sime Vrsaljko were also nursing issues of their own before the opening day, and Dalic has admitted that Modric and Marcelo Brozovic will not be able to complete all four games this month.
Brozovic completed the full 90 minutes against Austria despite previous doubts over his fitness and may now cede his spot to Modric, while Borna Barisic and Mislav Orsic could also be reintroduced. As mentioned, France lost two integral cogs in Varane and Mbappe to injuries on Friday night, with the former picking up a hamstring problem while Mbappe was taken off with a knee issue. The extent of the injuries is currently unclear, but Guy Stephan will expect to be working without the duo here, which could open the door for Presnel Kimpembe and Christopher Nkunku to start on Monday. The visitors must take particular care over N’Golo Kante amid the packed schedule given his struggles to stay fit in recent times, so either Adrien Rabiot or Matteo Guendouzi may be called upon here.
Croatia possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Juranovic, Vida, Caleta-Car, Barisic; Modric, Kovacic; Vlasic, Pasalic, Orsic; Kramaric
France possible starting lineup:
Lloris; Kimpembe, L. Hernandez, Kounde; Clauss, Tchouameni, Rabiot, T. Hernandez; Griezmann; Benzema, Nkunku