After losing in the final of the inaugural UNL, the Netherlands looked keen to utilise home advantage having won all but one of their previous 10 competitive matches on Dutch soil since the end of 2020.
Croatia, as ever, were proving stubborn opponents in a cagey opening period that saw the raucous home crowd treated to just one shot on target. Luckily for Ronald Koeman’s men, that effort ended up in the back of the Croatian net.
Nathan Ake’s square pass from the left cut a hole through the visitors’ defence to find Mats Wieffer, and he slid in Donyell Malen to fire into the bottom corner and send the Dutch in at the break with a slender lead.
So often over the last five years, Zlatko Dalic’s men have shown they don’t panic when falling behind, and their calmness under pressure once again helped earn them a route back into this clash.
Luka Modric caught Cody Gakpo napping in possession in his own box, and when the Liverpool forward pulled the Croatia captain down, he conceded a penalty. Andrej Kramaric coolly slotted home from 12 yards to restore parity into this enthralling contest less than 10 minutes after the restart.
The Dutch struggled to handle the setback, and Croatia got the goal their play merited, as a low cross from Luka Ivanusec was turned home on the volley by Mario Pasalic.
The big-game experience of the Croatian players became ever more prevalent as the final whistle approached, as they kept the ball away from their own penalty area for large periods.
With time running out, the Netherlands threw everything at Croatia in the final stages and in the sixth minute of stoppage time, they finally got their reward. After the visitors failed to clear a set piece, Noa Lang showed composure beyond his years to cushion his effort high into the net and send the contest into extra time.
Momentum was with the Dutch after their last-gasp leveller, but it would be Croatia to find the game’s all-important fifth goal. Bruno Petkovic, who so memorably scored in extra-time to score against Brazil at the World Cup, executed a glorious turn before firing home from the edge of the area.
A second revival wasn’t on the cards for Koeman’s men, who were ultimately beaten by two goals when Modric converted a 116th-minute penalty after an awful challenge from Tyrell Malacia.
The Dutch fall at the penultimate hurdle in the UNL and drop into the third-place play-off as a result, while Croatia will face either Spain or Italy in the final as their hunt for a maiden major trophy intensifies.