Champions League players aim for another trophy at Nations League Final Four
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — There is another international trophy to win in Europe this weekend and players from Manchester City and Inter Milan will be available at the four-team Nations League Finals in the Netherlands.
Netherlands defenders Nathan Aké and Denzel Dumfries are teammates again after facing each other down in Man City’s 1-0 win over Inter on Saturday in the Champions League final.
The Nations League host team will play in the first semifinal match on Wednesday in Rotterdam against a Croatia team with Inter midfielder Marcelo Brozović.
Spain can call on midfielder Rodri, whose goal made Man City champions of Europe for the first time, for the second semifinal match against Italy on Thursday. That game will be played in Enschede.
The final will be played on Sunday in Rotterdam, with the third-place game in Enschede on the same day.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini has called up five Inter players, including the entire central defensive line — Francesco Acerbi, Alessandro Bastoni, Matteo Darmian — that kept striker Erling Haaland mostly in check last weekend.
This year's long European season was split in two by the World Cup in Qatar. Croatia finished third at that tournament, four years after reaching the final and losing to France.
“At the end of the season, there is the issue of fatigue,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said, “but we have a historic opportunity to win the first trophy.”
That lure of a first international title appeared to persuade Luka Modrić to stay with the national team. Now 37, Modrić has played 164 times for his country said after captaining Croatia to victory over Morocco in the third-place game in Qatar he wanted to “continue until at least the Nations League and after we will see.”
It is the third Nations League Final Four tournament, which teams reach by winning a top-tier group. The promise of a 10.5 million euro ($11.3 million) prize from UEFA adds to the attraction.
The Dutch are without two key players as they bid to win the country’s first international title since the 1988 European Championship. Memphis Depay’s latest injury issue — a calf problem sustained in May — keeps the Netherlands’ most important forward out of the squad. Depay averages a goal every two games in his 88 internationals.
Matthijs de Ligt picked up a similar injury in training for the Croatia match. Daley Blind, a teammate at Bayern Munich, came in as a replacement.
The Netherlands were runners-up in the inaugural Final Four, losing to Portugal in the 2019 final after beating England in the semifinals.
The Nations League gives Modrić and his teammates another, if not last, chance to win a trophy. Thirty-four-year-old Ivan Perišić and the 30-year-old Brozović still feature in a consistently star-studded midfield.
Croatia qualified from a tough Nations League group that included World Cup finalist France and Denmark. Modrić’s penalty kick at Stade de France last June lifted Croatia to its first victory over France at the 10th attempt.
Leipzig defender Joško Gvardiol is not available this week because of a stomach muscle injury. Augsburg forward Dion Drena Beljo was added to the squad.
Inter players can quickly shake off their Champions League disappointment as the backbone of European champion Italy's squad. Nicolò Barella and Federico Dimarco also linked up with the squad on Monday.
This will be Italy’s third semifinal match against Spain in two years. The Azzurri won on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the Euro 2020 semifinals in London. Spain then won 2-1 in Milan in the 2021 Nations League final four.
Spain coach Luis de la Fuente will be put to the test after a lackluster start. He replaced Luis Enrique following the national team’s poor World Cup campaign, showing some of the same problems from the past — lots of possession and few scoring chances.
In March, Spain needed two late goals in a hard-fought 3-0 win over a Norway team missing Haaland to open its qualifying campaign for the 2024 European Championship, then fell 2-0 at Scotland. It leaves the coach under pressure to show significant improvement at the Final Four, where Spain reached the final in 2021 but lost to France.
“We should learn from the past, correct what wasn’t done well,” Spain goalkeeper Unai Simón said Monday. “But we shouldn’t be held back by what happened then.”
Spain has injury problems with Nico Williams, David García and Juan Bernat unable to travel to the Netherlands. Ansu Fati, Nacho Fernández and Fran García are their replacements.
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