Luka Modric’s early penalty delivered Croatia a 1-0 win against an off-form France in Paris on Monday, ending the World Cup holders’ four-match losing streak in the UEFA Nations League in June.
At the Stade de France, veteran Croatia captain Modric stroked in his spot-kick after only five minutes. Despite Kylian Mbappe’s return to the starting lineup alongside Karim Benzema, the hosts could not produce an equalizer.
“We had an inferiority complex against France following their World Cup victory, so to win in front of roughly 80,000 people at the Stade de France against the world champions is incredible,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said.
Last year, France won the Nations League, but they have only managed two points from four games this month, with home losses to Denmark and Croatia sandwiched between draws away to the Croats and in Austria.
Les Bleus are now bottom of League A, Group 1, seven points behind leaders Denmark, who defeated Austria 2-0 in Copenhagen on Monday with goals from Jonas Wind and Andreas Skov Olsen in the first half.
Didier Deschamps’ side may now need to win all their remaining group games in September to escape relegation to League B.
Those are also their last two matches before they open their World Cup defense against Australia in Qatar in November.
“It’s not an excuse, but we’ve lacked power, vitality, and character in this group,” added Deschamps, who missed the loss to Denmark earlier this month due to his father’s death.
“It stings since we haven’t won a game yet.” Maybe I didn’t have the average amount of energy to send to them.
“At the start of next season, we’ll need everyone to be in the appropriate frame of mind and athletic condition.”
Although Mbappe, Modric, and Marcelo Brozovic were the only players who began that day to line up at kick-off here, this was the latest encounter between the teams that played the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow.
When Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate was deemed to have fouled Josip Brekalo, the Israeli referee gave the visitors an early penalty, shocking the home crowd of almost 77,000.
Even though France goalkeeper Mike Maignan got a touch, the evergreen Modric, back at the venue where he won the Champions League with Real Madrid at the end of last month, made no mistake with the ensuing penalty.
From then on, it needed Mbappe’s infrequent bursts of speed to rouse the fans, but France came closest to scoring in the first half when Christopher Nkunku shot just wide from range.
Mbappe had been injured against Denmark and therefore missed the tie in Croatia, but he came off the bench to score a late equalizer in Austria.
The Paris Saint-Germain striker came close twice in the second half to bring the game level, and the hosts also had a penalty claim turned down when Lucas Digne fell in the box.
At the other end, Maignan saved a powerful drive from replacement Lovro Majer, but Croatia, led by Modric, saw the game through as goalkeeper Ivica Ivusic prevented Josip Sutalo from scoring an own goal.
The final whistle was met with jeers, and Deschamps hoped that France’s summer dip was due to exhaustion among his players after a lengthy campaign rather than a foreshadowing of what would come later in the year.
The last round of Nations League matches before the end of the European season will take place on Tuesday in Moenchengladbach, with Germany taking on Italy in the main event.