Spain vs France 1-2: Benzema and Mbappé Deliver Nations League

France topped Spain in the Nations League Final on Sunday night, showing that the World Champions are still alive and willing to defend their supremacy in the beautiful game.

After shockingly crashing out of Euro 2020 on penalties, Didier Deschamps and his boys were called to redeem themselves and the new UEFA competition Final Four offered a prompt chance for that. Les Bleus took full advantage of it, ousting Belgium in the Semi Finals after going two goals down and then prevailing over Spain 2-1 thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé. Their added value.

Spain, who had taken the lead thanks a Mikel Oyarzabal fine effort, saw their chance to win a trophy for the first time since Euro 2012 vanish once again. However, Luis Enrique’s band came home with the scalp of European Champions Italy – which they eliminated on Wednesday in the Semi Final – and the reassurance that such young starlets in the making as Gavi and Yeremi Pino will help them continue to be a major contender in international competitions for a long time. The future might be bright for La Furia Roja.  

France, on the other hand, showed that the infamous outcome of their Round of 16 game at Euro 2020 was maybe just a bump in the road or the consequence of an overconfident approach. And, well, perhaps it is difficult not to feel overconfident when you can lineup, on top of the likes of Benzema and Mbappé, a midfield maestro like Paul Pogba and a rock-solid playmaker like Ngolo Kanté (who, by the way, was not even playing tonight…).

Add to it that coach Didier Deschamps seems to have finally realized that he also has one of the best left backs / left wingbacks in the world available in Milan’s Theo Hernandez, and you understand how France will come into the upcoming 2022 World Cup as the number one favorite. That’s what they confirmed tonight at San Siro Stadium in Milan.

The Nations League Final promised to be a world class showdown despite both contenders missing some big names: Ngolo Kanté and Lucas Hernandez on one side, Alvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno and Pedri – just to name a few – on the other.

Both coaches made two changes from their winning Semi Final efforts, with Luis Enrique deploying Eric Garcia for Pau Torres and Rodri for Koke in his tested 4-3-3 setup with no true strikers. Didier Deschamps, on the other hands, lined up Presnel Kimpembe for Lucas Hernandez and Aurélien Tchouaméni for Adrien Rabiot.

France were off to a promising start as, just six minutes after kick off, Paul Pogba invented a spectacular filtering pass for Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid veteran dribbled past Unai Simon but lost the timing and allowed the Spanish defense to block his shot.

It was a chance that seemed to herald a vibrant first half but the two sides soon ended up cancelling each other. Spain progressively gained control of the pitch with high pressing and ball possession, the specialty of the house, but never came to test Hugo Lloris.

The stalemate was only broken by a forced substitution on Deschamps’ part, as the French coach had to replace the injured Raphael Varane with Bayern Munich’s Dayot Upamecano on 41 minutes.

The second half opened with Spain on the offense as they tried to take advantage of a Jules Koundé defensive mistake but Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia wasted their chance on the counter.

Around the one-hour mark, the game at the San Siro finally caught fire and it all happened in the space of three minutes. First, Theo Hernandez saw his effort pushed back by the crossbar, an unlucky ending for a brilliant one-touch action by France.

Immediately after, it was Sergio Busquets to conjure a long range cross that found Mikel Oyarzabal into the Bleus‘ defensive third. The 24-year-old dashed past Upamecano and pierced Lloris with a deadly left foot shot to open the scoring in favor of the Furia Roja

However, Spain remained in the driving seat for just one minute as Benzema received the ball on the edge of the box and drove it right into the top right corner of the goal, with Unai Simon vainly trying to palm it away.

With the Nations League last act finally delivering what promised, Kylian Mbappé also decided to wake up and tried to catch the Spanish goalie by surprise with a lob shot that sailed above the bar. The PSG starlet had another chance a few minutes later but his conclusion comfortably ended in Unai Simon’s hands.

Mbappé didn’t seem to be in one of his best nights but, since three is a charm, when he was served a fine pass from Hernandez on 80 minutes, he just couldn’t miss it. A VAR check confirmed the Frenchman to be onside as he slotted the ball home after going one-on-one with the Spanish number one.

Spain were still alive and it took some fine goalkeeping from Lloris to defuse a tricky Oyarzabal volley two minutes before full time. The French captain was well alert again during stoppage time and his save from Yeremi Pino’s shot put the final stamp on France’s victory. Three years after their World Cup triumph in Moscow, the French could lift a trophy again and they fully deserved that. 



October 10, 2021 – Nations League 2021 Final

SCORERS: 64′ Oyarzabal (S), 66′ Benzema (F), 80′ Mbappé (F)

SPAIN (4-3-3): Unai Simon; Azpilicueta, Laporte, Eric Garcia, Alonso; Gavi (74′ Koke), Busquets, Rodri (85′ Fornals); Ferran Torres (85′ Merino), Sarabia (61′ Pino), Oyarzabal (De Gea, Pau Torres, Martinez, Bryan Gil, Sergi, Robert Sanchez, Reguilon, Pedro Porro) Coach: Luis Enrique
FRANCE (3-4-1-2): Lloris; Koundé, Varane (43′ Upamecano), Kimpembe; Pavard (80′ Dubois), Pogba, Tchouameni, T. Hernandez; Griezmann (91′ Veretout); Benzema, Mbappé (Maignan, Costil, Martial, Diaby, Guendouzi, Ben Yedder, L. Hernandez) Coach: Deschamps

REFEREE: Taylor (England)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Laporte (S), Pogba, Koundé, Mbappé (F); Added Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 5′