Spain beat Croatia on penalties to lift Nations League crown and end their 11-year trophy drought.
Spain’s Nations League victory could get the country back on a winning streak, head coach Luis de la Fuente has said after securing the country’s first international trophy in more than a decade through a hard-fought win on penalties against Croatia.
“Obviously, winning gives you more shine, and I expect more joy to come in the future,” De la Fuente told reporters early on Monday. “All projects are better constructed on a base of victory and this gives us more strength, confidence, calm.”
Spain’s first trophy since Euro 2012 provided a welcome boost to De la Fuente himself as well, as he had come under pressure after losing his second match in charge 2-0 against Scotland in a Euro 2024 qualifier in March.
That shock defeat followed a disappointing Qatar World Cup under the previous coach, Luis Enrique, in which the 2010 world champions were defeated by Morocco in the round of 16.
Goalkeeper Unai Simon saved two shots in a penalty shootout after the tense Nations League final had finished 0-0 on Sunday.
The Bilbao goalkeeper used his feet to save a penalty by Lovro Majer when the shootout was level at 3-3 and then dived full-length to tip Bruno Petković’s spot kick around the post.
Dani Carvajal converted his penalty – with a “Panenka” chip – to seal the victory.
Spain’s other previous titles came in the 2010 World Cup and the European Championships in 1964, 2008 and 2012.
Midfielder Rodri, who punched the air after scoring his penalty, has four titles this season after also winning a historic treble with his club, Manchester City. He was named the player of the Nations League tournament to cap his memorable year.
Spain did not manage a shot on target until the 84th minute of the match and when substitute Ansu Fati finally looked like breaking the deadlock, Ivan Perišić was on the goal line to block his effort. It was Spain’s only goal-bound attempt, compared with five by Croatia.
In the first period of extra time, Majer broke through and fell in the penalty area under a challenge by Nacho, but German referee Felix Zwayer ruled that the Spain defender had played the ball and waved off Croatia’s appeals for a penalty.
“I think it makes the win even more epic doing it this way,” De La Fuente said.
Croatia’s fans – many wearing shirts with star player Luka Modric’s name and No 10 on the back – far outnumbered their Spanish counterparts at De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam.
But they left disappointed as their nation and the 37-year-old Modric continued their wait for a first international title.
Croatia finished second at the World Cup in 2018 and third in Qatar last year.
Modric, meanwhile, has won the Champions League five times with Real Madrid and was named FIFA’s world player of the year in 2018, breaking the decade-long dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But he has not been able to cap his glittering career with international honours.
Whether he will have another try at next year’s European Championships remains to be seen.
“I’d love Luka to stay,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. “He’s a very important player for us.”