In another thrilling UEFA Nations League encounter, world champions France, once again, had to come from behind, to beat Spain 2-1 in the final on Sunday at the San Siro. A fantastic equaliser from Karim Benzema was followed by a contentious winner from Kylian Mbappe but the French have to thank their goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Lloris, for keeping out the Spaniards in a frantic finish.
It is full circle for Mbappe, who was blamed for France’s ouster from the Euros but goals against Belgium and now Spain have made him once again France’s darling football star.
Just like the semi-final comeback against Belgium, France were a bit docile in the first half as La Roja dominated ball possession but could not score the goal that would have justified their dominance.
Lloris knew as early as the 11th minute that he had to be at his best as he saved from Pablo Sarabia. Sergio Busquets and Gavi controlled the midfield and frustrated Paul Pogba and Aurelien Tchouameni, who stepped in for Adrien Rabiot, who tested positive to COVID-19 after the win over Belgium.
France lost Raphael Varane to injury just before half time with Dayot Upamecano coming on to replace him.
The second half was a more intense and captivating affair as the occasion dawned on the players and they produced a spectacle. Mikel Oyarzabal gave Spain a deserved lead in the 64th minute as he drove his shot past Lloris into the bottom corner. This was immediately after Benzema had thumped a shot against the underside of the Spain crossbar. But Upamecano was not covered in much glory with the ease with which Oyarzabal shrugged him off before scoring.
France did not take long in responding as Benzema produced an absolute beauty of a curler, from the edge of the box that left Unai Simon grasping for thin air. That was two minutes after Oyarzabal’s opener.
The winner came on 80 minutes when Mbappe latched on to a pass from Theo Hernandez. The PSG striker then had the composure to perform a stepover before dispatching the ball underneath Simon. Immediate video replays suggested offside but after VAR checks, the goal was given.
France had to hold on and had Lloris to thank for making saves from Oyarzabal and substitute Yeremi Pino. France became the first nation to win the World Cup, the Euros and the new Nations League tournaments.
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