Netherlands-Croatia, Spain-Italy in Nations League semis draw
NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Host nation Netherlands will play Croatia in the UEFA Nations League semifinals after the draw was made Wednesday.
The Dutch, under new coach Ronald Koeman, will face World Cup semifinalist Croatia on June 14 in Rotterdam at the De Kuip home stadium of Feyenoord.
In the other semifinal, Spain will play European champion Italy on June 15 in Enschede at the home of Twente.
The final in Rotterdam and third-place game in Enschede are both scheduled on June 18.
The four teams qualified for the mini-tournament by winning a top-tier Nations League group played last June and September.
The finals played every two years were previously won by host Portugal in 2019 and France in the 2021 edition staged in Italy.
The four teams’ commitment to the Nations League meant they were all drawn into smaller five-team qualifying groups for the 2024 European Championship. Those groups start in March and run through November.
UEFA created the third-tear competition to replace unwanted friendlies in national-team schedules. It also added competitive games to the increasingly congested season for players.
Koeman, who was Netherlands coach in his first spell in the job when his team lost the inaugural 2019 final, said he preferred to play for a trophy than extra qualifying games.
“We are not a nation that is always winning prizes. For football players it’s important,” he said, expecting his team in June “will be really very motivated.”
Croatia assistant coach Vedran Ćorluka acknowledged “maybe the schedule could be a little bit easier for the players,” pointing to the demands of fitting in four Nations League games last June ahead of the World Cup that started in November.
“Obviously for them to play for something instead of friendlies is always much better,” Ćorluka said.
Croatia expects its captain Luka Modrić to play in the Netherlands tournament after another standout World Cup at the age of 37.
“He is watching now until June and then we will see what he will decide,” said Ćorluka, a former teammate of Modrić at Tottenham and in the national team. “Whatever he decides we are happy with that.”