Where the Nations League was won: France’s fighting spirit
France added the Nations League crown to their ever-growing list of international silverware with a 2-1 victory over Spain.
It is the seventh time in 2021 that the World Champions have avoided defeat despite falling behind, as they led for less than 20 minutes combined across both the semi-final and final.
Les Blues' never say die attitude saw them grab a last-gasp winner against Belgium on Thursday, while tonight it was their quick response to going behind against Spain that served Didier Deschamps’ side so well.
Tight opening 45
Much like the preceding third-place play‐off between Italy and Belgium, the first half of the final was a tight and edgy affair.
Neither side wanted to throw caution to the wind, as was reflected in the efforts, or lack of, at goal.
In true Spanish style, La Roja dominated the possession stakes in the opening 45 minutes, but could not produce anything to show for it.
An old adage suggests you are at your most vulnerable when you have scored, and France inflicted this perfectly on their southern neighbours.
Mikel Oyarzabal’s opener from a Sergio Busquets pass had come straight after Theo Hernandez had struck the underside of the bar at the other end.
Les Blues did not let their heads drop, and were back level less than two minutes later.
Karim Benzema produced an exquisite shot that, despite Unai Simon’s best efforts, curled into the top corner.
From despair 120 seconds prior, Deschamps’ men were lifted just as they had been in Turin against Belgium.
Had they not struck back so soon, it is hard to have seen them breaking down what was a stubborn Spanish backline.
Kylian Mbappe’s ice-cool finish in the 80th minute would prove to be the winning goal, but the Paris Saint-Germain forward was clearly in an offside position when the ball was played through by Hernandez.
Many watching at home, and some of those in red at the San Siro, seemed perplexed by the decision of VAR to award the goal.
By the letter of the law, however, it was the correct call — Eric Garcia’s deliberate attempt to play the ball meant Mbappe was no longer considered to have gained an advantage, despite being beyond the final defender when the ball was played.
Garcia’s critical, albeit minimal, touch meant the officials were right.
Mbappe benefitted from being in an offside position while the Barcelona centre-back was penalised for attempting the interception, which he only tried to make to stop the Frenchman being played through.
To make things worse for Spain, had Garcia not made the slight contact he had with the ball, the goal would have been ruled out.
France skipper Hugo Lloris might not be in the conversation as one of the world’s best anymore, but the 34-year-old showed what he was still capable of late on to ensure it was him who lifted the Nations League trophy.
As Spain piled on the pressure, the Tottenham stalwart stood firm.
First, it was a left-footed volley from Oyarzabal that he got down to, low and fast, parrying it away with a strong right hand.
Then, with a little over 60 seconds remaining in stoppage time, a Spanish corner fell to the unmarked Yeremi Pino.
The Villarreal starlet unleashed a venomous first-time strike through a crowd of bodies, but again Lloris palmed away the effort, rolling back the years with a fine reflex save.
Man for the big occasion
In case you have not already noticed, Paul Pogba loves the limelight and tonight’s final was no exception.
Going into the Nations League finals without N'Golo Kante had some people worried about Les Blues’ lack of strength in the middle, but they should not have stressed.
Pogba was a combative presence in the heart of the park, competing for more duels (21) than anyone else on the pitch.
He also had more touches (77) and made more passes (42) than any of his team-mates.
He picked up a needless yellow card that had him treading on eggshells in the second half, but the Manchester United man saw the game out to add another medal to his collection.