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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Spain 1-2 France: Karim Benzema stunner and Kylian Mbappe strike clinch Nations League trophy for France

Kylian Mbappe gained redemption for his Euro 2020 disappointment by scoring France’s Nations League-clinching goal in their 2-1 win over Spain, as the final lived up to a week of remarkable drama in the competition.

The Paris Saint-Germain superstar had missed his country’s crucial spot-kick in their last-16 shoot-out exit to Switzerland in the summer but he scored a penalty to put France into this final and made no mistake when VAR surprisingly called an offside decision in his favour 10 minutes from time in Milan.

Initially this showdown between two of Europe’s heavyweights had struggled to live up to the twists and turns of the midweek semis, with Raphael Varane’s thigh injury the main talking point from a cagey first half – but the contest came to life in the space of three second-half minutes.

Mikel Oyarzabal (64) got the better of Varane’s replacement, Dayot Upamecano, to put Spain in front just seconds after Karim Benzema had crashed a shot against the underside of the bar – but the France striker responded himself moments later with a sensational, curling shot past Unai Simon (66) to equalise.

That set the stage for Mbappe to tuck away Theo Hernandez’s deflected through ball and make the world champions the second-ever Nations League winners, a triumph which signals their return to form just over a year out from their World Cup title defence.

How it happened…

Ahead of kick-off, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp had praised the improvement in France’s performance levels during their semi-final comeback win over Belgium after their below-par Euro 2020 campaign, and Didier Deschamps’ side were out of the traps quickly on Sunday, with Benzema just failing to profit from a fine Paul Pogba through ball before Aymeric Laporte had to scramble away a Benjamin Pavard cross.

Team news

  • Spain made two changes from their semi-final win over Italy, with Pau Torres and Koke coming out of the side for Eric Garcia and Rodri – but Ferran Torres was passed fit to start after being forced off during that game following a rough challenge.
  • France also made two changes, with Adrien Rabiot’s COVID positive test handing 21-year-old Aurelien Tchouameni a chance in midfield, while Presnel Kimpembe replaced Lucas Hernandez in the back three.

But Spain – who had won a titanic tussle with Italy to get here – showed their own attacking threat when Ferran Torres, who started wide on the right after impressing as a centre forward against Italy, played in Pablo Sarabia to shoot at Hugo Lloris 12 minutes in, although Oyarzabal, who took on the false nine role, struggled early on against the physicality of the French defence.

Chances were few and far between for much of the first half, though, with Spain seeing an ambitious penalty shout for a Jules Kounde handball from Rodri’s cross rightly rejected during an in-game VAR check, before Marcos Alonso pinged a low free-kick harmlessly wide of Lloris’ goal eight minutes before the break.

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Worrying scenes for both France and Manchester United after Raphael Varane suffered an injury and had to be substituted in the Nations League final.

France – and Manchester United – were dealt a blow on 43 minutes when Varane was forced off with a thigh injury, with Upamecano taking his place. However, it was Kounde whose mistake allowed Spain their first flourish of the second half, although Sarabia’s cross for Torres was a poor one.

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Jamie Redknapp was full of superlatives for 17 year old sensation Gavi’s first half display in Spain’s Nations League defeat to France.

For the second time in the match, Spain’s penalty appeals were waved away on 56 minutes when Aurelien Tchouameni sent Gavi tumbling in the box after making a firm but fair tackle, but they hit the front in dramatic fashion soon after.

Benzema cannoned a shot off the underside of the bar from a France counter-attack and Spain raced up the other end, with Sergio Busquets feeding Oyarzabal to skip past Upamecano and shoot into the far corner.

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Karim Benzema hits the bar

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Mikel Oyarzabal puts Spain ahead

Spain’s supporters were still celebrating when France equalised, though; Benzema bent in a brilliant effort off the finger-tips of Simon from just inside the penalty area to haul his side level.

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France hit back immediately after Spain scored through Karim Benzema’s sumptuous strike in the Nations League final.

The drama wasn’t done, with Mbappe’s winner coming in controversial circumstances: the striker was only spared being called up by VAR for offside by a faint touch from Eric Garcia on Hernandez’s pass, which initiated a new phase of play.

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Kylian Mbappe survived a very tight VAR offside call to put France 2-1 ahead against Spain in the Nations League final.

It was cruel on the Spanish but the 22-year-old forward kept his cool and, after a couple of step overs, drilled in a low finish to put France on the brink.

For Mbappe, it was a sweet moment given his Euros error. For France – who held firm during a late Spanish onslaught – the trophy is a reminder of their strength after a summer of criticism.

‘France get lucky with winner’

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Jamie Redknapp felt that Kylian Mbappe’s winning goal in the Nations League final should have been ruled out for offside, calling the interpretation of the law unfair.

Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:

“France looked a broken team in the Euros and felt they had to change everything, including the manager and the players. But this proves you don’t always have to do that. You can get success in other ways and they’ll be delighted. I felt in this game they would wait for a moment, and in the end they got two.

“Spain were the better team in terms of keeping the ball and technically but what France have got up front were killers. They had goalscorers in Benzema and Mbappe that unfortunately Spain didn’t have.

“When Spain had opportunities, they just didn’t have that extra pace to get away.

“I do feel the goal is a contentious one. I feel France are very lucky.

“There are two schools of thought with that, as I feel that Mbappe is definitely in an offside position. The only reason that Garcia plays the ball is he knows Mbappe is behind him. So France get really lucky.

“I know the interpretation now is different but offside in this situation should really be offside.”

What they said…

Spain manager Luis Enrique: “Irrespective of who we play against, or in what situation, we always try to play our way – with bravery, attacking with ambition. So tonight it’s not so much about the pain of defeat, it’s also about a tinge of sadness because we competed very well.”

France manager Didier Deschamps: “I’m very proud and very happy for the players. We went behind in both of the matches. Today we equalised quickly after going behind. Beyond the talent that we have in this team, there’s also their character and mentality, and I’m very proud of the players. We stopped playing after 20 minutes and you can’t do that against Spain. Our system, and the way we operate in it, still needs improvement. In the second half we were more aggressive and forced them into mistakes.”

Spain defender Cesar Azpilicueta: “We were the better team but the score says different. We’re disappointed. Of course we wanted to finish in a different way but it’s how football works and we’ll learn from this.

On the offside decision for Mbappe’s goal: “The referee is there to make decisions but I’m more disappointed is that the referee who makes the decision isn’t Mr Anthony Taylor, who was here, it’s the one who is in the VAR. The monitor is there to use it. I don’t know why he doesn’t go to the monitor and see by himself if it’s deliberate play or not. The offside is very clear and the ref watching the reviews in the office says he can’t play the ball, but I don’t think so. I don’t know why the referee on the pitch who feels the pace of the game who can make the decision with the monitor.”

France midfielder Paul Pogba: “I’m very happy. This trophy was really not easy after a Euro where we should have done better. We came back with two beautiful games, the first one against Belgium and the second against Spain, two beautiful teams. We got the cup and we got the win and we’re really really happy.”

What’s next?

Spain resume their World Cup qualifying campaign away to Greece on November 11, while France are next in action in their World Cup qualifier at home to Kazakhstan on November 13.

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