2023 Nations League Review: Spain have added a fifth trophy to their collection after defeating Croatia in an intriguing penalty shootout
Spain won the UEFA Nations League (UNL) trophy by defeating Croatia in a penalty shootout. This victory ended Spain’s 11-year wait for a major title.
In the previous edition of the UNL final in 2019, Spain had lost to France, so they were determined to do better this time. Croatia, with their talented players, were hoping to win a major title before their golden generation came to an end. Spain started the game strongly, putting pressure on Croatia and coming close to scoring. However, Croatia’s Andrej Kramarić had a good chance to score but was stopped by a sliding challenge from the Spanish defense. The first half ended without any goals, which was a common trend in the history of the Uefa Nations League.
A fascinating battle was unfolding between two former wingers who now play as full-backs, as Ivan Perišić faced off against Jesús Navas. Zlatko Dalić’s team was increasingly focusing their attacks on this side of the field. Perišić’s dangerous cross caused chaos at one end, while Marco Asensio’s header threatened at the other.
The match remained evenly balanced as the clock passed the hour mark. Both managers made changes to try and change the game, but when substitute Ansu Fati made a quick run that drew Dominik Livaković out of his goal, Fabián Ruiz was unable to direct his lobbed shot towards the net. As the 90th minute approached, Fati must have believed he had scored the winning goal from close range, but Perišić’s excellent positioning on the goal line denied Spain their first shot on target.
In the three previous head-to-head matches, a total of 19 goals were scored. However, none were scored in the regular period of this contest, leading to extra time. Despite limited clear-cut chances, Mateo Kovačić made a strong midfield run that almost resulted in a goal for Croatia, but Nacho’s last-minute intervention prevented Lovro Majer from scoring.
In the end, a penalty shootout was necessary, with Croatia having won all four of their previous shootouts since 2018. After 12 penalty kicks and two saves by Unai Simón, Dani Carvajal scored the decisive penalty with a confident Panenka, leading to Croatia’s second major final defeat in five years.
At 34 years old, Barcelona’s Jordi Alba lifted his first international trophy as captain of the Spanish national team, while manager Luis de la Fuente achieved UNL glory in only his fourth game in charge.