Croatia and the Netherlands finished warming up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in style on Sunday by winning their last UEFA Nations League 2022-23 games to qualify for the Final Four tournament next year. (More Football News)
Croatia topped Group A1 by winning 3-1 in Austria to relegate the hosts to the second tier of the Nations League, while the unbeaten Dutch defeated visiting Belgium 1-0 and won Group A4 with 16 points — six more than second-place Belgium.
Defending Nations League and World Cup champion France lost 2-0 in Denmark but avoided relegation because of Austria’s defeat.
It was the last match for the World Cup-bound teams before the competition starts in Qatar on November 20. Qatar is in the Netherlands’ group at the World Cup along with Ecuador and Senegal. The French and the Danes will meet again in Qatar with Tunisia and Australia also in their group.
The World Cup could be the last international tournament for 37-year-old Croatia midfielder Luka Modric, and he’s in good form. The Croats led after six minutes in Vienna when their veteran captain was left unmarked inside the penalty area and rifled home.
Austria equalized three minutes later through midfielder Christoph Baumgartner’s glancing header, but second-half goals from forward Marko Livaja and central defender Dejan Lovren sealed a memorable win for Croatia, whose World Cup group includes Belgium, Canada and Morocco.
Denmark finished in second place on 12 points and one point behind Croatia after beating a sloppy and injury-depleted France side 2-0 at home. Striker Kasper Dolberg fired the Danes ahead in the 34th minute and midfielder Andreas Skov Olsen made it 2-0 soon after as France’s inexperienced defense failed to deal with a corner and exposed No. 3 goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.
France woke up in the second half but star striker Kylian Mbappe fluffed a one-on-one chance against goalkeeper Kaspel Schmeichel — Dolberg’s club teammate at Nice — and had two other tame efforts saved in quick succession.
Les Bleus finished third, one point ahead of the Austrians, but coach Didier Deschamps’ team won only one of their six games and scored just five goals — the least in the group. The Belgians needed to win by three goals away to the Netherlands and lost 1-0, with Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk heading in the only goal after 73 minutes.
Poland won 1-0 in Wales in the other Group A4 game as the prolific Robert Lewandowski turned provider for strike partner Karol Świderski around the hour mark. Last-place Wales is relegated.
Gareth Bale returned to the starting lineup to win his 108th cap and the Wales captain headed against the crossbar in stoppage time. This was Wales’ final game before their first appearance at a World Cup for 64 years, with their opening game in Qatar against the United States on Nov. 21.
In the Nations League, the four group winners in top-tier League A advance to the Final Four tournament. Hungary host Italy on Monday with both teams fighting to finish first in Group A3. Hungary only needs a draw to advance. Portugal and Spain play each other on Tuesday in Group A2 with Portugal advancing if it avoids defeat.
AUSTRALIA BEAT NZ
Australia completed its World Cup warmups on Sunday with a 2-0 win over New Zealand for its second win against the All Whites in a week. On an emotional day for the hosts as they said farewell to captain Winston Reid in front of more than 35,000 people at Eden Park, Socceroos striker Mitchell Duke headed home in the 54th.
Substitute forward Jason Cummings converted a penalty in the 80th after an eye-catching run by 18-year-old Garang Kuol. Kuol, who has been targeted by Premier League club Newcastle, was Australia’s youngest debutant since Harry Kewell in 1996.
The match marked the end of Reid’s All Whites career with the skipper retiring from international football. The defender is best known for his late goal to secure a 1-1 draw against Slovakia in New Zealand’s opening match at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.