UEFA Nations League: Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema beat France to win title

World champions France scored a 2-1 win over Spain in the Nations League final with goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe at the San Siro Stadium on Sunday (October 10). 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 gave up,” Benzema said.

“It shows what great teams do – never panic, be patient and wait for the right time.”

Luis Enrique’s youth Spain team, which defeated European champions Italy in the semi-finals, played their trademark possession football with patience and precision, but could not compensate for the absence of a genuine striker in the end. “It was a tough defeat,” said Spanish-born French defender Aymeric Laporte.

“We have proved 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 relatively weak with Spain moving the ball well, but without dangerous penetration, while France suffered a mid-half injury from Rafael Varane. But both sides woke up after the break when French full-back Theo Hernandez 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.

Then Mbappe caught the winner, 10 minutes from the end, running through a ball from Hernandez and keeping his cool to leave Unai Simon behind. 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 didn’t get off to a good start and dominated us and waited until the first goal to react,” said Pogba, 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 trophies. We’re always hungry for them,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Italy defeated Belgium 2-1 in Turin to finish third in the Final Four tournament.

(with Reuters inputs)

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