Spanish players after winning the Football Nations League against Croatia, Sunday June 18, 2023, in Rotterdam (Netherlands). PETER DEJONG/AP
La Roja is back. More than ten years after having reigned supreme over the world of football, Spain returns to the heights by a narrower route, the League of Nations, won against Croatia (0-0, 5-4 on tabs), Sunday June 19, in Rotterdam (Netherlands). After winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, Spain succeeds Portugal (2019) and France (2021) after the first final of this new tournament played on penalties.
Croatia, specialists in the exercise, bowed, the Rennais Lovro Majer then the center forward of Dinamo Zagreb Bruno Petkovic having seen Unai Simon stop their attempt. Aymeric Laporte had however offered a reprieve to the Croats, pulling the bar on the last shot of the series of five. The French-born defender nevertheless took his revenge, two years after his failure at the same stage of the competition, against the Blues (2-1), in Milan.
It is also revenge for the new Spanish coach, already threatened after his second meeting at the head of La Roja – a defeat in Scotland (2-0) – and who won a trophy after the fourth. The Rodri generation, shaped by Luis Enrique and retouched by Luis de la Fuente, imposed itself as outside, in a crazy atmosphere with the songs of the Croats.
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The Croatians still end up with the silver medal, as at the 2018 World Cup, and add this medal to the two bronze medals from the 1998 and 2022 Worlds – but still no gold. They can console themselves with the unofficial title of best public in Europe, and hope that their captain, Luka Modric, 37, will not want to retire internationally on this failure.
More than 25,000 Croatian supporters
Fortunately there was this atmosphere to make people forget a final which did not keep the promises of previous duels between the two teams. The boiling De Kuip stadium, which looked like a giant checkerboard, almost exclusively occupied by red and white checkered jerseys, except for two red and yellow boxes for the 6,000 Spaniards. Announced 25,000, the Croats were much more numerous.
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But dressed in blue, the Croats failed to diffuse this fever on the ground. If possession was to their advantage, Spain had more chances, the first for Alvaro Morata (9th) Gavi (12th), Marco Asensio (57th) or Rodri (66th). Croatia had their chance by Andrej Kramaric or Mario Pasalic, countered by the “Frenchman” Robin Le Normand (24th) before hitting the side netting later (61st). The Vatreni did not grow their possession better because Petkovic, who entered in place of Pasalic (62nd), multiplied the bad choices, sometimes angering his teammates. And the unfortunate missed the fatal shot on goal…
Ansu Fati could have avoided extra time if still excellent Ivan Perisic had not made a miraculous save on his line – players had already risen from the Spanish bench to run and celebrate the goal. After regulation time, Nacho also managed a save, heeling the ball into the feet of Lovro Majer, who was heading for goal (100th). Almost the whole stadium claimed the penalty, but the gesture was regular.
Finally, Dani Olmo, former Dinamo Zagreb from 16 to 22 years old, “crunched” two new match points (104th, 108th). But Spain held on nervously this time, after two eliminations in quick succession against Italy and Morocco.