Paul Pogba was once again a standout performer as France came from a goal down to beat Spain 2-1 and clinch the UEFA Nations League crown.
The first half was a sordid affair as even though the game was keenly contested, chances came few and far between. In fact, up until the deadlock was broken, there was barely a shot on target produced by either Spain or France even though both teams found their way into the opposition box.
It was Spain who finally brought the game to life as Sergio Busquets released Mikel Oyarzabal, who needed a stroke of luck before scoring as the ball ricocheted off a clueless Dayot Upamecano in the lead-up to the shot. That was perhaps what France needed to finally be jolted into life and another piece of brilliance by Karim Benzema brought them back in the game.
The veteran striker produced a superb curling effort to beat Unai Simon before Kylian Mbappe completed the turnaround with a close range strike in the 80th minute. Spain would not find a way back, as France held on to their slender lead to win the second edition of the UEFA Nations League, as predicted in our preview. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over both the sets of players.
Unai Simon: 6/10
There was absolutely nothing that Simon could have done anything to deny Karim Benzema or Kylian Mbappe, and he was powerless to stop France’s comeback. While Benzema produced a truly world class curler to beat him, Mbappe ran around him to score the winner late on.
Cesar Azpilicueta: 6/10
Solid at the back but carried no influence in the final third. Azpilicueta was typically industrious and showed good reading of the game to keep France’s attackers at bay for nearly three quarters of the game. Laid a nice offside trap before Mbappe scored the match-winning goal. Has to improve his output in the final third.
Eric Garcia: 5/10
There have been question marks surrounding Eric Garcia’s composure, and those questions will pop up once again after Sunday. The Barcelona defender did win four of the five duels he contested while completing three interceptions. Failed to cut the ball out for Mbappe’s goal.
Aymeric Laporte: 6/10
Not the best of performances from Laporte, but he still more than held his own for most parts of the game. There were only a few moments when he was outclassed by Benzema, but he did well to shut out the France striker’s threat as well.
Marcos Alonso: 6/10
A game of hits and misses for Alonso. While he was a fine outlet for his side on the left flank, he faced a fair few nervy moments at the back after being caught out of position, particularly in the second half. Did utilise the ball well, though, completing three key passes, with his crosses carrying some threat as well.
It is hard to fathom that this was only Gavi’s second game for Spain or that he is all of 17. The Barcelona prodigy plays with the spunk and maturity of a player with experience well beyond his years. No wonder that some of the biggest clubs in Europe are starting to show an interest in him.
Sergio Busquets: 8/10
Busquets has been proving himself as an ageless wonder with some of his recent performance. A rock in the middle of the park, the Spain skipper was typically tenacious in his display while also being the best creative outlet for his side. Indeed, it was his pass that released Mikel Oyarzabal for the opener while the Barcelona midfielder won an impressive ten duels. What a classy player.
Sergio Busquets wins the player of the final trophy ? pic.twitter.com/Tvcvk7T3i6
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 10, 2021
Rodri was part of a largely defensive Spain midfield, and he combined well with Sergio Busquets to that effect in order to shut out France right up until they scored, bar a few moments of genius from a certain Paul Pogba. His influence waned as France clawed their way back into the game before being taken off for Pablo Fornals.
Ferran Torres: 5/10
Man of the match in the semi-final win over Italy, this was a completely opposite showing by Ferran Torres. This time around, the Manchester City attacker was wasteful in possession while hardly managing to create a chance or aim a shot at goal. Perhaps a rare blip.
Mikel Oyarzabal: 7/10
After a fine performance last time out against Italy, Oyarzabal once again proved to be one of the standout performers for Spain. The 24-year-old stitched play well and held the ball smartly even if he did not necessarily trouble the Spain defenders. However, he showed guile and street smartness when he put Spain ahead. The joy would be short-lived, though.
Spain have scored three goals in the Nations League finals:
?️ Mikel Oyarzabal
?️ Mikel Oyarzabal
⚽️ Mikel Oyarzabal
That man once again. ? pic.twitter.com/V2msGgMTsh
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 10, 2021
Pablo Sarabia: 5/10
A game to forget for Sarabia, who carried no influence whatsoever in the game. The 29-year-old was abysmal in his output on the ball, completing just nine of the 23 passes he attempted – a pass completion rate of 39 percent! Just could not trouble Jules Kounde on his side.
Yeremi Pino: 6/10
Yeremi Pino once again looked bright as he looked to be direct in his approach. However, he oddly had only 17 touches on the ball despite spending over half an hour on the pitch. Spain might have been well served by directing more plays through him.
Spent more time in the final third than in midfield. However, Koke never really managed to link up well with his teammates or get on the end of a chance.
Mikel Merino: N/A
On for Gavi, Merino did not carry much influence late on.
Pablo Fornals: N/A
Saw a fair bit of the ball despite spending only around 10 minutes on the pitch. However, Fornals could not inspire a late equaliser.
Hugo Lloris: 7/10
There was not a whole lot that Lloris could have done to keep out Mikel Oyarzabal’s effort as he was sold short by Dayot Upamecano. However, the France captain rose to the occasion to effect two crucial late saves to help clinch the UEFA Nations League. Enjoyed a fine international break.
Jules Kounde: 7/10
A solid display by Kounde, who seems to be revelling in the three-man central defensive setup that Didier Deschamps has recently banked on. The 22-year-old just could not be troubled by Pablo Sarabia, as he completed five interceptions and four clearances. Played out smartly from the back as well, completing 91 percent of his attempted passes.
Raphael Varane: 6/10
Raphaël Varane has been forced off after 42 minutes in the Nations League final.
Man Utd's other first-choice centre-back Harry Maguire is also currently out injured. ? pic.twitter.com/6kEsQlc0hZ
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) October 10, 2021
For much of the first half, Varane was largely untroubled, with Oyarzabal barely managing to trouble him. However, as half-time approached, he picked up an injury that will be a major source of concern for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now.
Presnel Kimpembe: 7/10
Back in the side following a disastrous showing by Lucas Hernandez last time out, Kimpembe showed that he deserves a long rope, with a composed performance wherein he almost completely shut down Ferran Torres. Won eight duels while completing five tackles, three clearances and a big block. Precise as ever with the ball at his feet, he ensured efficient build-up plays.
Benjamin Pavard: 6/10
A largely straightforward showing on the defensive front for Pavard, who combined well with Jules Kounde to negate the influence of Sarabia. However, going forward, the 25-year-old carried little to no influence, which is something he needs to address going forward.
Aurelien Tchouameni: 7/10
Drafted into the side ahead of Adrien Rabiot, Tchouameni showed just what the fuss is all about. The youngster created a solid midfield partnership with Paul Pogba and played a key role in ensuring that Spain could never run away with the game despite their periods of dominance. Won eight duels while completing four interceptions as well. Job well done.
Paul Pogba: 8/10
Paul Pogba’s game by numbers vs. Spain:
84% pass accuracy
16 ground duels contested
11 ground duels won
6 attempted dribbles
6 successful dribbles
5 attempted tackles
3 successful tackles
2 fouls won
1 chance created
Another trophy. ??? pic.twitter.com/TD3mXRsvKT
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) October 10, 2021
There is just something about Paul Pogba in a France shirt that makes him irresistible. Yet again, the 28-year-old ran the show for Les Bleus, with a brilliant through pass for Karim Benzema setting the tone of his performance. Opened up play beautifully with some accurate long passes while also putting in the hard yards when Spain were on top. A pivotal cog in Deschamps’s unit.
Theo Hernandez: 7/10
This was an international break wherein Theo Hernandez has gone a long way in deservedly nailing down his spot in the French national side. Yet again, the marauding wing-back was a menace on the left flank while also defending diligently. Somehow could not score the opener after his thumping effort rattled the crossbar. Set Kylian Mbappe up with a peach of a through ball. What a talent!
Antoine Griezmann: 6/10
A game of hits and misses for Griezmann. While he was once again a bundle of energy and created as many as three chances in the game, he did not pile on the pressure on the Spain defenders by making himself an option inside the box. Still, put in the hard yards for his team and combined well with Pogba.
Kylian Mbappe: 7/10
As was the case against Belgium, Mbappe was heavily involved in whatever France did going forward, including both of the goals that they scored. Got the assist for Benzema’s goal, although that was entirely the Real Madrid striker’s doing. Perhaps, a tad bit fortunate in the lead-up to his goal, but the finish was top notch. The rating, though, comes down due to his poor finishing in the rest of the game.
Nations League semifinal:
—France down 2-0 to Belgium
—Benzema and Mbappe score to tie the game
Nations League final:
—France down 1-0 to Spain
—Benzema and Mbappe score to take the lead
These two ? pic.twitter.com/WDodyuAHMj
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 10, 2021
Karim Benzema: 7/10
A man who just cannot be stopped at the moment. Benzema was on the end of the best opening of the first half, although he ended the chance after rounding Simon, as the angle became too tight. However, when it counted, Benzema produced another world class goal to bring France level with Spain. Also created more chances (4) than anyone else on the pitch.
Dayot Upamecano: 5/10
Introduced ahead of half-time in place of the injured Varane, Upamecano held his own for the most part, completing three interceptions and clearances apiece. However, he could not keep control over the ball in the crunch moments, practically gifting Oyarzabal the chance for a second time before he scored the opener.
Leo Dubois: N/A
On for Pavard with around 10 minutes of regulation time left, Dubois was solid in his cameo.
Jordan Veretout: N/A
A late introduction, Veretout helped see the game out.