Dejan Kulusevski scores a first-half to give Sweden an early lead against Croatia in UEFA Nations League game

UEFA Nations League: Sweden’s Rising Star Keeps Survival Hopes Alive

Sweden 2-1 Croatia

Sweden are still in League A of the UEFA Nations League — for now. The Swedes staved off relegation to League B with a crucial 2-1 home win over fellow Group 3 strugglers Croatia.

First-half goals from rising young star Dejan Kulusevski and Marcus Danielson were enough to see the Swedes to pick up their first points of the campaign.

The Swedes are now tied with Croatia on three points heading into the final round of group matches, but they still have a lot of work to do to avoid the drop.

 

Highlights of the game

The Swedes got the first clear sight of goal after just six minutes. Dejan Kulusevski found space near the edge of the box and got a good shot off, but Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was able to punch the ball clear.

Just a few seconds later, Sweden had a penalty shout when Emil Forsberg went down in the box, but the referee did not oblige the Swedish forward.

Forsberg would get the home side’s next shot on target from a similar position as Kulusevski’s opening effort. But the RB Leipzig star’s shot on the turn was well-smothered by Livakovic.

Croatia captain Luka Modric hasn't scored a goal during their UEFA Nations League defeat against Sweden

Croatia’s Luka Modric in action during their UEFA Nations League game against Sweden

Despite captain Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield, it took the Croatians until the 21st minute to finally create their first notable chance on goal. Josip Brekalo tried an ambitious shot from the left wing that Sweden’s Robin Olsen caught quite comfortably.

Ivan Perisic would provide a tougher test for Olsen just a couple minutes later, though. The veteran winger unleashed a powerful strike from just outside the box, but Olsen was able to parry it out for a corner.

Forsberg would again force a smart save from Livakovic just before the half-hour mark from a free-kick.

But the Croatian keeper was unable to prevent the home side from taking the lead on 36 minutes through Dejan Kulusevski. Amid significant pressure from a Croatian defender, the young Juventus star was still able to shift the ball to his left foot and slot it past the diving Livakovic for his first career international goal.

The home side would then double their advantage right on the stroke of half-time. Croatia lost track of Marcus Danielson on a corner, and the Swedish centre-back made them pay with a bullet header into the bottom corner.

Croatia continued to struggle to create many clear-cut goalscoring opportunities in the second half as Sweden looked the much more likely side to get the next goal.

The home side probably should have sealed the win just after the hour mark when Albin Ekdal found himself completely unmarked from the penalty spot. However, the Swedish midfielder was unable to keep his composure as he skied his shot well over the bar.

Forsberg was also off-target with his long-range effort, while a shot from skipper Marcus Berg was blocked for a corner.

Croatia finally began to get going in the final 15 minutes, though, and their pressure paid off as they pulled a goal back. Perisic’s header took a deflection off the head of Danielson and ricocheted into the net for an own-goal.

However, that goal would prove to be too little too late as Sweden would hang on to claim the victory.

 

Key statistics

Despite controlling 56 per cent of possession, Croatia struggled to create many good goalscoring opportunities. They had just seven shots in total, three on target.

Meanwhile, Sweden had 11 shots with six on target. Emil Forsberg created the majority of the Swedes’ UEFA Nations League 2020 highlights with three shots, two of which were on target.

Kulusevski was also on target with both of his shot attempts. The 20-year-old has now scored three times this season; he scored in his debut for Juventus against Sampdoria and also scored to salvage a 1-1 draw with Verona.

 

What’s next?

Sweden and Croatia still have so much to play for in their final Nations League group games, which will determine who will get relegated to League B.

Both teams are tied at three points, but Croatia hold a slight advantage due to more goals scored. That means if the Croatians beat Portugal at home or simply match Sweden’s result against France, they will seal third place.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s UEFA Nations League 2020 odds of staying in League A remain quite long. Not only must they pick up either a win or a draw against France away from home — check out SBOTOP’s preview of that crucial match — they also need Croatia to drop points against Portugal to stand any chance of avoiding relegation.

 

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