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Spain wins Nations League: Croatia edged out on Penalties
- Updated: June 19, 2023
Spain became the third different winner in three editions of the UEFA Nations League, squeezing past Croatia on penalties after a goalless draw in the final in Rotterdam.
The early stages were an exercise for Spain in tempering the exuberance of the Croatia players and their horde of followers inside the stadium. They did just that and nearly made the breakthrough twice in the opening 15 minutes, first when Dominik Livaković spilled Fabián Ruiz’s cross-cum-shot against the post and then when Gavi dragged an attempt just wide from the edge of the area.
Keeping this Vatreni outfit quelled has been a problem for many sides in recent years, though, and back they came, Aymeric Laporte and Robin Le Normand forced into last-ditch blocks before Unai Simón sprawled across his goal to keep out Ivan Perišić’s header – spirits and volume raised once more.
Zlatko Dalić had shown faith in center-backs Martin Erlić and Josip Šutalo – just 12 caps between them – and La Roja struggled to create clear-cut chances against the pair, Marco Asensio’s flashing header over the bar a rare opportunity early in the second half. Mario Pašalić went closer when heading into the side netting, while Rodri’s rasping shot from a distance whistled past the target as the contest remained goalless heading into the final quarter of the normal time.
Luis de la Fuente turned to the pace and trickery of Ansu Fati, and lucky charm Joselu, but Spain struggled to stamp their authority on the relentless Vatreni, whose industry and threat was epitomised by 34-year-old left-back Ivan Perišić continuing to maraud down the left, then clearing off the line to deny Fati the breakthrough. Asensio swept wide as the clock struck 90 minutes, Spain ending normal time in the ascendancy.
Croatia and extra time have been inseparable friends in recent years, their only blemish coming in their UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 defeat by Spain, and they looked the more likely to prise an opening even if few were forthcoming. Nacho blocked brilliantly from Lovro Majer while deflections denied Asensio and Rodri as penalties could not be averted.
Six successful spot kicks followed before Unai Simón’s outstretched boot repelled Majer’s effort, only for Laporte to rattle the bar at match point. Unai Simón kept out Petković next up, paving the way for Dani Carvajal to coolly seal the silverware for La Roja.
Player of the Match: Marcelo Brožović (Croatia)
“His relentless effort both in and out of possession. Connecting attack from back line to the front and working extremely hard defensively covering almost the whole pitch.”