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Spain win Nations League: Croatia edged out on penalties

Unai Simón saved twice in the shoot-out following a goalless draw as La Roja won the trophy for the first time.

Final highlights: Croatia 0-0 Spain (4-5 pens)

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.

Key moments

9' Livaković spills Fabián Ruiz shot against post
12' Gavi goes close from edge of the area
Unai Simón keeps out Perišić header
57' Asensio header flies just over
61' Pašalić nods into side netting
84' Perišić clears off line to deny Fati
Pens Unai Simón saves from Majer and Petković

Match in brief: Dogged Croatia finally fall on penalties

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.

Unai Simón congratulates Aymeric Laporte for a last-ditch tackle
Unai Simón congratulates Aymeric Laporte for a last-ditch tackleUEFA via Getty Images

Zlatko Dalić had shown faith in centre-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 distance whistled past the target as the contest remained goalless heading into the final quarter of 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.

Contrasting emotions as Ivan Perišić saves Croatia
Contrasting emotions as Ivan Perišić saves CroatiaUEFA via Getty Images

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.

Unai Simón keeps out Lovro Majer's penalty
Unai Simón keeps out Lovro Majer's penaltyUEFA via Getty Images

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."
UEFA Technical Observer Panel

Player of the Match: Marcelo Brozović
As it happened: Croatia 0-0 Spain (pens 4-5)

Elvir Islamović, Croatia reporter

It was a real chess game between the two big teams. Croatia were battling really well, they were controlling the match with a lot of discipline, but eventually they lost on penalties against Spain. This generation missed a big chance to win the first trophy for their country, but they don't have a single reason to be unhappy. This is still a winning team and the best group of players in Croatia's history. After two World Cup medals, they return home with silver in the Nations League and that is something only the best teams can do.

Graham Hunter, Spain reporter

The 'old' Spain, winners of two EUROs and a World Cup in their 'golden age' didn't play like this. They commanded, they controlled. Then they struck. Here, again, La Roja suffered from their modern ailment. No killer touch. Stubborn blue-collar work ethic replaced blue-riband brilliance. Eventually the match was in their grasp. It looked like they were going to keep spurning chances, that they were going to fluff their lines but, in the end, two superb moments from their goalkeeper were enough.


Spain celebrate in front of their fans
Spain celebrate in front of their fansUEFA via Getty Images

Luis de la Fuente, Spain coach: "We have to bear in mind the 16 best teams in Europe were involved and the best four were in the semi-finals. Getting to the final is a big achievement. We deserve credit. We were up against a top team who are experienced and finished third at the World Cup, so it's a big deal."

Dani Carvajal, Spain defender: "It wasn't me being chosen [to take a penalty] – I put my hand up. I've only ever taken one in my career, in the Spanish Super Cup, but I wanted to take this one. When the game ended, I went to the manager. They were doing a five-player shortlist and I told them that if any of the players were hesitant or weren't confident enough, I would like to take one and, if not, I would take the sixth. In the end, the game gave me the opportunity I wanted."

Rodri, Spain midfielder: "We showed such mental strength as a team. We were really good in the extra time. Above all in the shoot-out. When you you get here this is about winning. We were so competitive. Against a team which eliminated Brazil from the World Cup, which seems to always get to finals. A great team and we managed to compete and then beat them."

Zlatko Dalić, Croatia coach: "First, I congratulate Spain and our players on a great game. Thank you to the fans, as we had great support. We lost – too bad – but we have to be proud. We made it to the final but we didn't win. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The stakes were high, the game was tough and the opponent was good. We ran again for 120 minutes. We were quality, we competed with them. I have nothing to regret."

Lovro Majer, Croatia midfielder: "We are sad – especially me, because I didn't convert my penalty – but that's football. We gave everything we could but lost on penalties. We did well in the competition."

Marco Asensio heads over for Spain
Marco Asensio heads over for SpainUEFA via Getty Images

Key stats

  • Spain played in the Nations League final for the second successive edition, becoming the first nation to play in the decider on more than one occasion.
  • La Roja failed to score for only the second time in 20 Nations League matches; for Croatia it was just the second time in 16 games.
  • Spain have been successful in five of their last seven deciders at current major international final tournaments (EURO, Nations League and World Cup).
  • La Roja become the second team, after France, to win the EURO, World Cup and Nations League.
  • At the last two World Cup final tournaments, UEFA EURO 2020 and now here, Croatia have played extra time on eight occasions; they have won six – four on penalties – but lost the other two to Spain.


Croatia: Livaković; Juranović (Stanišić 112), Šutalo, Erlić, Perišić; Modrić, Brozović, Kovačić; Pašalić (Petković 61), Kramarić (Majer 90+1), Ivanušec (Vlašić 78)

Spain: Unai Simón; Jesús Navas (Carvajal 97), Le Normand (Nacho 78), Laporte, Jordi Alba; Rodri, Fabián Ruiz (Merino 78); Asensio, Gavi (Olmo 87), Pino (Fati 66); Morata (Joselu 66)

What happens next?

The teams switch attentions back to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2024 in September, when Croatia face Latvia and Armenia, while Spain take on Georgia and Cyprus.

The next edition of the UEFA Nations League, featuring quarter-finals and promotion/relegation play-offs, begins in September 2024, with the finals the following June.

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