Revamped France fight back to sink battling Croatia
PARIS: France earned a rollercoaster 4-2 home win over Croatia in an entertaining top-tier Nations League Group 3 match on Tuesday with the outcome a carbon copy of their memorable clash in the 2018 World Cup final.
The French made it two wins out of two after their opening 1-0 victory at Sweden and stayed level on six points with Portugal, 2-0 winners at Sweden after a Cristiano Ronaldo brace boosted his international tally to 101 goals.
In contrast, the Croatians suffered their second successive defeat after a 4-1 drubbing at European champions and Nations League holders Portugal.
With the early stages being played at walking pace, the game looked unlikely to produce an avalanche of goals but France, playing in a revamped 3-4-1-2 formation, moved up a gear after falling behind.
The Croatians took a 17th-minute lead through captain Dejan Lovren, who beat home goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with a crisp left-foot shot after leaving Moussa Sissoko flat-footed with some neat ball control.
Antoine Griezmann missed a sitter before sweeping home a 43rd-minute equaliser from a flowing move and France turned the tide with an own-goal by Croatia keeper Dominik Livakovic on the stroke of halftime.
Anthony Martial, who made his first start for France since March 2018, scrambled a close-range effort on to the post and the ball trickled over the line after rebounding off Livakovic's back.
Halftime substitute Josip Brekalo levelled with a fine solo effort in the 55th minute, muscling his way past three defenders before he steered the ball past Lloris.
France nosed ahead again 10 minutes later as defender Dayot Upamecano took advantage of static defending to head home a Griezmann corner and Olivier Giroud sealed the home side's win with a 77th-minute penalty.
France manager Didier Deschamps said he would stick with the unfamiliar new formation although he conceded it would take time to bed in.
"We played with greater style, apart from the first 30 minutes when we were dominated physically and were not precise enough technically," Deschamps told the France's TF1 television.
"I changed seven players between the first and the second game. This system needs to be repeated in order to be integrated by the players."
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic was unhappy with his team's defending, especially at set pieces.
"We're letting in goals far too easily," Dalic told reporters. "It's a fact, just like in Portugal we keep leaving rival players unmarked in dead ball situations."
"We have a lot of work to do if we are going to be competitive in the Nations League and in next year's European championship."