World champions France won the Nations League final in a 2-1 win over Spain with goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe at the San Siro Stadium on Sunday.
Didier Deschamps’ side had struggled to gain a foothold in the game during the first half, dominated by Spain, but came alive after a strike by Mikel Oyarzabal, going down a goal. With Paul Pogba excellent in midfield, Mbappe’s pace and pace made Spain a constant threat and Benzema, the Frenchman, was well worth his win.
“We showed our character against a very strong team. We never give up,” said Benzema. “It shows what great teams do – never panic, be patient and wait for the right time.” He played his trademark possession football with patience and precision but could not make up for the absence of a genuine striker in the end.
“It was a tough defeat,” said Spanish-born French defender Aymeric Laporte. We have proven to be a great team despite our youth, we have shown better football than them, but what matters is the result.” The first half was a relatively weak affair with Spain moving the ball well, but with dangerous penetration. Without, while France were hampered by a loss to mid-half Rafael Varane, but both sides woke up after the break when full-back Theo Hernandez of France thumped a shot against the bottom of the bar after a sharp break. .
Spain responded to that warning in clinical fashion when Oyarzabal, lying on a long pass from Sergio Busquets, caught Dayot Upamecano and shot him in the bottom corner. The French response was swift, however, as Mbappé found Benzema, who cut before uncovering a superb curling shot in the far corner to make it 1-1. Mbappe grabbed the winner 10 minutes from the end, running through a ball from Hernandez and keeping his cool to get past Unai Simon.
Spain protested that Mbappe was offside at the time of receiving the ball but in a VAR check, defender Eric García found the French striker a slight touch. France had keeper Hugo Lloris to thank for two late saves as Deschamps’ side held on to victory against intense Spanish pressure. Lloris landed well to block Oyarzabal’s low shot in the 89th minute and then reacted brilliantly to cross off substitute Yeremy Pino’s strike in stoppage time.
The Nations League, in its second edition, clearly remains UEFA’s secondary tournament for national sides, as Italian fans recounted their team’s Euro 2020 victory, but that didn’t stop France’s celebrations. We dominated and waited until the first goal to react,” said Pogba, who was critical of France’s response. “We know we have to do better. But if that’s the way for us to win, then so be it. It’s always good to win a trophy. We are always hungry for them,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 in Turin to finish third in the Final Four tournament.