The Nations League is a young competition, and as such it still needs its myths and legends. Its exciters. On Sunday evening, a lot was done to ensure that the Nations League arouses emotions. For: a controversial goal by Kylian Mbappé (84th), which at first glance smelled of offside, gave the Équipe de France a 2-1 victory over Spain in the final – and the title. Apparently, Spain’s defender Eric García had still touched the ball and thus cancelled out the offside. World champion France thus succeeds Portugal, which had won the first edition of the Nations League of the European soccer union Uefa two years ago.
Spain’s national coach Luis Enrique had gone into the match with a doubt. Striker Ferran Torres (Manchester City), who scored Spain’s two goals in the 2-1 semifinal win over Italy, was stricken. Yéremi (Villarreal FC) therefore took part in the warm-up program for the starting eleven. In the end, Ferran Torres gave the all-clear, so the changes from the game against Italy were limited to two names: Center back Eric García played for Pau Torres, midfielder Rodri for Koke. On the other side, France coach Didier Deschamps replaced Bayern professional Lucas Hernández with Presnel Kimpembe – and corona-infected Adrien Rabiot with Aurélien Tchouaméni. After about 40 minutes, Raphaël Varane went off injured. Dayot Upamecano (FC Bayern) took his place.
At this point, the young, playful Spaniards – after a good, but short initial phase of the French – had long since usurped the monopoly over the ball. Captain Sergio Busquets formed the center of a radial system of endless passing sequences. The adventurous Ferran, 21, and Gavi, 17, made a joke of teasing France left-back Theo Hernández on the right, but the same was evident with them as with everyone else: The last pass was always a hair’s breadth too imprecise, so that the game resembled a game of chess for a long time, in which the opening drags on miserably.
France waited for a goal with a sledgehammer, but then Benzema chose the delicacy department.
But: it was still more than what the French offered. They relied on the fact that a counterattack would sit, that Mbappé and Benzema would be successful with the sledgehammer. Eventually. But it did not happen – also because the Spaniards apparently had the order to compensate for any loss of the ball by tactical fouls if necessary.
But then came the 64th minute, the minute of the game. After the break, the “Uuuis” from the stands had already piled up, because there were approaches to the opponent’s goal on both sides, Theo Hernández chased the ball to the lower edge of the crossbar. On the counterattack, however, Real Sociedad San Sebastián’s Mikel Oyarzabal then scored – with the help of two Bayern defenders. Pavard picked up the possible offside; Upamecano escorted Oyarzabal more than he interfered with him, allowing the Basque to shoot in with his left for the lead. But then Karim Benzema responded – sledgehammer, my ass – with a delicacy. He entered the sixteen at the left corner of the penalty area and flicked the ball into the top right corner to make it 1-1, with goalkeeper Unai Simón only able to reach the ball with his fingertips.
“We tried to have long periods of possession. For long stretches we succeeded,” said Sergio Busquets afterwards, but: “When we were at our best, they turned the game very quickly.”
For soon after the equalizer came the scene with Mbappé, who shot in after a pass deep from Theo Hernández. The Spaniards protested vehemently. And to no avail. “The referee told us that Eric García had touched the ball and that the offside was therefore cancelled,” said Busquets, “but we are told that you have to have the intention to play the ball. That was not the case here. He tried to break up the pass, but he never had control of the ball.” Long after the final whistle, the Spaniards continued to complain about the refereeing team led by England’s Anthony Taylor.
The final phase was turbulent: Oyarzabal had a good chance a few minutes before the end of normal time, as did substitute Yéremi in injury time. However, the French still managed to win the game.