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Spain lost the final, but this is a team we can get on board with


In the space of a few minutes, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé, two utterly fabulous strikers, turned on its head a game Spain had looked like they might win. A shame. It has to be admitted that we simply don’t have players as good as that. That’s why we’ve come away from the Nations League finals empty-handed. However, we’ve also come away from the tournament with a team which, after a fitful few years, we can once more truly get behind. The same has to be said of the coach, Luis Enrique, as much as he doesn’t seek, or need, our approval. He’s not the most agreeable of fellows, but it should be acknowledged that behind his decisions was not a desire to wind people up, but a plan. Watching Spain in action in these two games in Italy, that plan was as clear to see as ever.

Gavi again impresses in an otherwise unremarkable first 45

Sunday’s final at the San Siro was one kind of game until Mikel Oyarzabal’s goal, and quite another afterwards. As against Belgium, France opted to sit and wait, playing the stingy brand of football favoured by their coach, Didier Deschamps, who has the talent at his disposal to do so much more. Spain knocked the ball about elegantly but without cutting edge, while France awaited their opportunity to hit Spain with a sucker punch on the counter, courtesy of their attacking trio of Antoine Griezmann at No 10, and Mbappé and Benzema up top. With Spain focused and well on top of the threat, there was nothing much of note to report in the first half, other than the assertiveness shown by Gavi, who won his midfield duels against the towering presence of Paul Pogba with a truly astonishing ease.

France finally play the football they have the ability to play

Everything changed when Oyarzabal exploited a Dayot Upamecano mistake to latch on to Sergio Busquets’ through ball and finish with an angled drive right into the corner. Spurred into action, France became a different side. Benzema quickly equalised, bending a precision effort into the far top corner, and Les Bleus began to play the way they should always play, hitting Spain with a torrent of attacking endeavour. They soon netted for a second time, courtesy of Mbappé, who was beyond the last man when the ball was played to him, but was given onside because a VAR check showed that Eric García had grazed the ball in his efforts to clear. Under the old testament, that wouldn’t have changed the fact that Mbappé was in an offside position. Under the new, ever-changing testament, it does.