Spain beat Croatia in a dramatic penalty shootout to become the second winners of the Nations League.
Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal would score the winning penalty in sudden death after Unai Simon made two saves in the shootout.
Inside the opening 10 minutes a howler from Dominik Livakovic almost gifted Spain the opener. The Croatia number one spooned a tame cross from Fabian Ruiz up onto his own goal posts and then straight into the path of Alvaro Morata on the edge of the six yard box, however he was able to spare his own blushes by smothering the Atletico Madrid striker’s subsequent shot before it nestled in the net.
Moments later a high press from Spain would lead to Gavi coming within a whisker of making it 1-0. The talented youngster latched onto the ball on the edge of the ball and screwed a low effort narrowly wide of the foot of the left post.
Croatia did manage to create a few openings of their own thereafter, with Ivan Perisic forcing Unai Simon into a smart save with a powerful header from just inside the penalty area, and Spain having to rely on a last ditch challenge from Aymeric Laporte to deny Andrej Kramaric what looked like a certain goal after he stormed through on goal.
The Croatians would start the second half brightly, pushing their full-backs much further forward to provide their attack with some width. That tactical tweak almost paid dividends in the 50th minute when Perisic chipped the ball to fellow full-back Josip Juranovic at the back post. The Union Berlin man’s volleyed effort on goal, however, flew wide of the post.
That chance would wake Spain up a bit and, five minutes later, they’d create a decent chance of their own. Marco Asensio rose highest in the middle of the penalty area to latch on to a Jordi Alba cross, but he was unable to keep his resulting headed effort down.
Rodri was next to produce a notable effort on goal, cannoning an effort from fully 30-yards which flew just wide.
Overall however, Croatia were the better team throughout the second half as their midfield were able to both contain Spain’s offence and keep their defence on high alert.
In the final 10 minutes of the game, Spain’s substitutes began to make a difference for Luis De La Fuente’s side. One of those substitutes really should have scored the winning goal in the 84th minute when, after controlling a cut-back from the left flank, side-footed past Livakovic in the Croatia goal but not Perisic, who ran back to the goal line to clear the danger.
As many expected, given that the game featured Croatia, there would be no winning goal in normal time and, as such, extra time was required.
Another substititute would spurn another chance in the first half of extra time when the ball sat up wonderfully for Dani Olmo on the edge of the box. The RB Leipzig star was unable to keep his first-time effort on goal down however, and the ball ballooned over the ball as a result.
That chance sparked a wave of Spain attacks as Olmo would see an effort from around the penalty spot deflected wide and Rodri saw another from a similar position well blocked by a stout Croatian defence.
Following those misses, the game would peter out into a penalty shootout.
Vlasic, Joselu, Brozovic, Rodri, Modric, and Merino would all score their spot kicks before Majer saw his saved by Unai Simon. Asensio would take advantage of that miss by scoring the next Spanish penalty, and after Perisic scored his Laporte had the chance to win it for Spain.
He didn’t. Instead he cannoned his penalty off of the crossbar, taking the shootout to sudden death.
In sudden death, Laporte’s blushes were spared when Simon saved Petkovic’s penalty and Carvajal stepped up to score his and win the Nations League.
GK – Dominik Livakovic – 5/10 – Almost cost his side a goal in the opening 10 minutes with a flap at a Fabian Ruiz cross.
RB – Josip Juranovic – 6/10 – Worked his socks off on the right in normal time and then noticeably tired in extra time.
CB – Josip Sutalo – 6/10 – Solid at the back, keeping Morata and then Joselu quiet.
CB – Martin Erlic – 5/10 – He looked nervy on the ball at times.
LB – Ivan Perisic – 7/10 – Caused Spain real problems every time he got into the final third and cleared one off the line. A great performance.
CM – Luka Modric – 8/10 – Led the press as a 37-year-old. Not sure how. He’s just different. He also used the ball extremely well as per throughout.
CM – Marcelo Brozovic – 7/10 – Kept Gavi at bay with his clever reading of the game. Scored his penalty in the shootout, as he always does.
CM – Mateo Kovacic – 7/10 – Held up his end of the bargain in Croatia’s impressive midfield.
RW – Mario Pasalic – 5/10 – Worked hard but didn’t really provide Croatia with much quality on the ball.
ST – Andrej Kramaric – 4/10 – He didn’t have the desired impact up top.
LW – Luka Ivanusec – 4/10 – Was overshadowed by Perisic on his flank.
Bruno Petkovic – 5/10 – Got himself about but didn’t get much service. Missed his penalty.
Nikola Vlasic -5/10 – Didn’t do a massive amount after being introduced.
Lovro Majer – 5/10 – Missed his penalty.
Josip Stanisic – N/A.
Manager – Zlatko Dalic – 6/10 – The atypical Croatia performance we’ve come to expect from Dalic’s team.
GK – Unai Simon – 8/10 – Made a few saves and his distribution was decent. Then he made a fantastic stop in the shootout to deny Majer and Petkovic.
RB – Jesus Navas – 4/10 – Struggled up against Perisic.
CB – Robin Le Normand – 6/10 – A very solid outing until he was taken off with an apparent injury.
CB – Aymeric Laporte – 6/10 – Brilliant recovery tackle to deny Kramaric a chance on goal. Missed his penalty kick.
LB – Jordi Alba – 6/10 – Showed a few glimpses of the old Jordi Alba.
CM – Rodri – 7/10 – Watching Rodri go toe-to-toe with Modric was very enjoyable. The Man City treble-winner held his own.
CM – Fabian Ruiz – 5/10 – As quiet as he usually is.
RM – Marco Asensio – 6/10 – Saw a header fly just over the bar in the second half, but failed to create much for any of his teammates.
AM – Gavi – 5/10 – Marked out of the game by the brilliant Brozovic.
LM – Yeremi Pino – 4/10 – He didn’t really do enough.
ST – Alvaro Morata – 5/10 – Worked hard but was completely starved of service.
Ansu Fati – 6/10 – Came on and almost scored a winner late in the game. He was very lively.
Joselu – 6/10 – Not as active a runner as Morata, but kept the Croatian centre-backs pretty busy. Scored a brilliant penalty in the shootout.
Mikel Merino – 6/10 – Worked hard when introduced.
Nacho Fernandez – 6/10 – Made a stunning challenge in extra time.
Dani Olmo – 6/10 – Very lively when he came on. He probably should’ve started the game.
Dani Carvajal – 6/10 – Scored the winning penalty.
Manager – Luis De La Fuente – 7/10 – He didn’t get the desired creative output from some of his starters, but his substitutes delivered for him.