By John Essien
The UEFA Nations League reaches a captivating end on Sunday at San Siro, as Spain and France do battle for the continental trophy.
Luis Enrique’s men saw off Euro 2020 winners, Italy 2-1 to advance to the final, while Les Bleus produced a stunning comeback to defeat Belgium 3-2 on Thursday night.
Ferran Torres’ firing form at the tip of Spain’s attack during their semi-final with Italy seemed to have proved to Pep Guardiola that breaking the bank for Harry Kane or Dusan Vlahovic may not be necessary.
The Manchester City star struck twice before the half-time whistle blew against the Euro 2020 champions, who were up against it for the second 45 minutes after Leonardo Bonucci was sent for an early bath, as La Roja held on despite Lorenzo Pellegrini’s late strike to set up a tense finale.
It became three wins on the bounce for Spain across all tournaments since their 2-1 World Cup Qualifying defeat to Sweden last month, and while their Nations League group stage was far from perfect, that historic 6-0 thrashing of Germany set them up perfectly for the showpiece events.
Spain are yet to get their hands on a major international trophy since Euro 2012, and if the glory days of Vicente del Bosque’s reign are to return, overcoming the reigning world champions in Sunday’s final would be a good starting point.
Entering the semi-final having won just one of their last six games in all competitions, France did not possess a form book befitting that of world champions before facing a Belgium side desperate to translate their spot at the top of the rankings into an elusive piece of silverware.
Didier Deschamps’s side seemed destined for more continental disappointment as Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku fired home to put Belgium two goals to the good before the break, but whatever the Bleus Manager said at half time worked wonders, as Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Theo Hernandez turned the tie on its head.
After sweeping aside Portugal, Croatia and Sweden with relative ease in the group stage, France will seek to right the wrongs of their Euro 2020 disappointment with success in the Nations League.
Les Bleus have only beaten Spain once in their last seven attempts across all competitions – a 1-0 friendly win in 2014 courtesy of Loic Remy’s strike – and France have been shut out in five of those games, but such statistics plunge into insignificance during an international final.