Spain made France sweat but thanks to goals by Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, the defending World Cup champions added another title to their trophy case as they beat Spain 2-1 to win the UEFA Nations League.
Mikel Oyarzabal opened the score in the 64th minute following a long pass from Sergio Busquets. Oyarzabal battled with Dayot Upamecano and managed to slip away from him before crossing his shot past Hugo Lloris.
The goal also came after France had a golden opportunity to strike first but Theo Hernandez’s shot hit the crossbar.
France did not panic as their star players proved the difference
The Spanish jubilation lasted only a few minutes as in the 66th minute, Benzema curled a shot from the left, past the outstretched hand of Unai Simon for the equalizer.
“Karim is essential,” Didier Deschamps said after the match. “He has real quality, and he’s continuing to do what he does for Real Madrid with us.
“He wants to succeed and I’m happy for him. He was fundamental for us in this Nations League win.
“He has improved a lot. He’s more involved in the game, he’s in good form and he has matured. He’s been playing at his best for years now.”
The momentum shifted to France quickly and were on top of Spain looking for a winner. That winner, and the ensuing controversy, came in the 80th minute.
Hernandez laid off a pass to Mbappe who looked well offside. The linesman did not lift the flag up as Eric Garcia scrambled to cut off the pass. He fell over but managed to make contact with the ball. Mbappe took it and toyed with Simon before slotting the ball past the goalkeeper.
The replay showed the Frenchman offside but the goal was given as the referee ruled that Garcia’s touch was an attempt to play the ball, starting a new play and making Mbappe onside. That was the explanation Busquets said they were given.
“It’s a shame. I think we did enough not to lose, but in two similar moves we conceded, although the goals were different. The second one, for us on the pitch, looked like offside,” Busquets said.
“But we have no choice but to congratulate the champions and keep going. We have one more small step left to win trophies and that’s our objective.
“Mbappe was in an offside position, the referee said that Eric goes to play the ball, and that means it’s not offside. That doesn’t make sense to us. You have to try to play the ball, Eric tried to cut out the pass like any defender would, he didn’t miscontrol.”
Spain went into the tournament with a number of injuries and with little expectations. Despite coming up short, Luis Enrique has shown himself to be more than just a capable manager and his decision to include players like Gavi and Yeremi Pino paid dividends.
France had to come back from a two-goal deficit to beat Belgium and advance to the final. They either relish being down or need it to get their motors running. While there may be some concerns heading into the World Cup, for now they’ll enjoy winning another international trophy.