Denmark can secure a place in the finals of the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League when they renew hostilities with Croatia in League A Group 1 at the Maksimir Stadium on Thursday.
Kasper Hjulmand’s side currently lead the way in the standings with nine points to their name, while the Chequered Ones sit just one place and two points worse off than the table-toppers.
Gleaning a measure of revenge against France four years on from being consigned to second place at the 2018 World Cup, Croatia piled on the misery for an abject Bleus side with a 1-0 win in their most recent Nations League encounter.
With Didier Deschamps’s reigning champions flattering to deceive in the Nations League – and now guaranteed to lose their grip on the crown – Luka Modric’s fifth-minute penalty settled the contest back in June and confirmed that France would not be going to the finals.
Croatia, on the other hand, have every right to believe that a coveted spot in the next stage could be theirs, as Zlatko Dalic’s men picked up seven points from 12 on offer in June to fire themselves to second in the standings, two points behind Denmark and three clear of Austria, whom they face on September 25.
Defeat on Thursday would therefore end the Croatian dream of Nations League glory for the third successive cycle, as the Chequered Ones posted back-to-back third-placed finishes in the 2018-19 and 2020-21 editions, but lady luck has been on their side since Euro 2020.
Indeed, Dalic’s men have lost just one of their last 13 matches in all competitions since their last-16 elimination at the continental championships, as Dalic prepares to lead his side into World Cup 2022 Group F alongside Belgium, Canada and Morocco.
The formula for Denmark on Thursday is simple – win, and their spot in the Nations League finals will be sealed. Despite being paired with the current World Cup champions and runners-up from 2018, Kasper Hjulmand’s resilient crop have gone about their business with professionalism and aplomb.
Taking nine points from their opening four games in League A Group 1, Denmark ended a positive June period with a 2-0 victory over Austria during their most recent encounter, as Jonas Wind and Andreas Skov Olsen struck inside the opening 45 minutes.
The Euro 2020 semi-finalists are safe in the knowledge that they cannot drop back down to Group B no matter what transpires this month, and both of their away games so far in the 2022-23 Nations League have ended in 2-1 victories versus France and Austria respectively.
Not since June 2021 have Denmark been involved in a draw in any competition – being held 1-1 by Germany in a friendly – and the world’s 10th-ranked nation can look forward to battles with France, Tunisia and Australia in World Cup Group D.
Mario Pasalic was on target when Croatia overcame Denmark 1-0 back in June, which marked a third successive win for the Chequered Ones against the group leaders, who have not come out on the correct end of the scoreline in this fixture since 1999.
Croatia Nations League form:
Croatia form (all competitions):
Denmark Nations League form:
Denmark form (all competitions):
We say: Croatia 0-0 Denmark
Denmark certainly do not possess an affinity for draws, but rustiness may come into play for both sides after three months with no international action, and June’s showdown was an extremely close contest.
Both defences should also feel capable of keeping their opposing attackers at bay, especially with Denmark a tad light in that area, so we would not be surprised to see this one end goalless as the battle for top spot goes right down to the wire.