Croatia earned their first points in UEFA Nations League Group 3 thanks to a late winner from substitute Andrej Kramarić in Zagreb.
Match in brief
The home side controlled the majority of the first half and duly took the lead in the 32nd minute with a well-worked goal. Luka Modrić started the move, setting Ivan Perišić away down the left; despite the attentions of Pontus Jansson, the midfielder was able to pick out Josip Brekalo at the far post and an unselfish lay-off was calmly slotted into the bottom corner by Nikola Vlašić.
Sweden keeper Robin Olsen was at full stretch to prevent Brekalo doubling the Croatian advantage early in the second period, subsequently turning behind a fierce Perišić effort. Croatia were made to rue those near misses as Sweden levelled in the 66th minute, Mikael Lustig and Emil Forsberg combining down the right to tee up Marcus Berg for a simple finish. Sweden were suddenly on top, only for Jansson to fail to cut out a long ball five minutes from time, allowing Perišić to supply substitute Andrej Kramarić for the winner.
Elvir Islamović, Croatia reporter
Croatia deserved this victory, but it wasn’t easy at all. Going without a striker paid off for Zlatko Dalić in the first half, yet Sweden’s equaliser changed the momentum and forced the coach to finish the match with two strikers on the pitch – Bruno Petković and Kramarić. The win is the most important thing for Dalić and Croatia, with world champions France in town on Wednesday.
Sujay Dutt, Sweden reporter
After taking an hour to find their feet, Sweden were the better team for much of the second half, only to let the game slip through their fingers again. For a 20-minute window Sweden showed initiative and imagination – personified by Forsberg, who laid on Berg’s equaliser. In the end, a defensive error handed Croatia a chance to win it. At least the Swedes came back stronger in that second period – if that is any consolation after another UEFA Nations League defeat.
Andrej Kramarić, Croatia forward: “We showed two faces – we played good and not so good in the same match. We played really well in the first half, but had some problems in the second, especially after conceding that goal. Fortunately, we managed to score a second late in the match.”
Nikola Vlašić, Croatia midfielder: “We played a good first half and then conceded that goal in the second. We were dominating most of the match and we managed to score the second goal at the end. We deserved this win. I never doubted for a single moment that we would get it. We put in a good performance for most of the match and it paid off.”
Marcus Berg, Sweden forward: “Croatia are a team that is really skilful on the ball, we knew that. It meant we couldn’t let them dictate the match the way they did. When we did manage to win the ball in the first half, we didn’t have the energy to do anything with it, we found ourselves chasing. We stepped things up considerably in the second half, and played every bit as well as they did in the first. It’s bitter to stand here once again with a defeat after playing a strong second half.”
- Kramarić has nine goals in his last five games for Croatia and Hoffenheim.
- This was only Croatia’s second win in six UEFA Nations League matches (L4).
- Croatia have scored in their last 17 games.
- This was Sweden’s first away defeat in the UEFA Nations League (W1 D1).
- The Swedes had never conceded an away goal in the competition before tonight.
Croatia: Livaković; Uremović, Lovren, Ćaleta-Car, Melnjak (Kramarić 75); Brozović; Kovačić (Pašalić 61), Modrić, Vlašić; Brekalo (Bradarić 74), Perišić (Petković 85)
Sweden: Olsen; Lustig, Lindelöf, Jansson, Augustinsson; Kulusevski, Olsson, Ekdal (Larsson 83), Forsberg; Isak (Claesson 65), Berg