Spain and France will battle it out to be crowned the winners of the second edition of the UEFA Nations League at San Siro on Sunday night.
It will be the clash of the titans at San Siro this Sunday night as European heavyweights Spain and France collide in the finals of the UEFA Nations League 2020/21.
Spain, who won their last major international trophy way back in 2012, have been on a road to recovery under Luis Enrique. La Roja won Group A4 in the second edition of the Nations League, losing just one of their six matches, to book a place in the semi-finals. Earlier this week, they defeated Italy 2-1 in the penultimate stage of the competition to make it to the showpiece event.
Having been eliminated from the semi-final stages of the UEFA Euro 2020 earlier this summer, Spain will be hoping to erase those memories and lift the trophy come Sunday. However, in their way will be the mighty world champions France. Didier Deschamps’ men cruised through the group stages, finishing on top of division A3 without losing a single game (W5 D1).
Facing up against Belgium in the semi-finals, Les Bleus were pushed to the brink, but they managed to make a stunning comeback after being two goals down to beat the Red Devils 3-2 courtesy of a late Theo Hernandez winner. In buoyant mood after that triumph, France will now be hoping to add the Nations League trophy to their cabinet.
The last time these two teams met was in a friendly back in 2017, in which Spain beat France 2-0. In what promises to be a blockbuster final coming our way from Milan on Sunday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Spain will be sweating over the fitness of semi-final hero Ferran Torres, who scored a brace against Italy before picking up a knock. The Manchester City winger, however, is expected to be fit and available for Sunday’s encounter. Apart from that, manager Luis Enrique has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the final.
💭Luis Enrique on Ferran Torres' injury:
"I know the line-up [for the UEFA Nations League final] and the only doubt is Ferran [Torres]. We will test him in the warm-up. If he is good, he will play. If he is not, another player will start." 🤕 #NationsLeague pic.twitter.com/O8ZEZsIEhA
— Football Alertt (@FootballAlertt) October 9, 2021
Spain will continue to set up in a 4-3-3 formation against France, with Unai Simon getting the nod in goal ahead of David de Gea yet again. Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte ought to be retained as the two centre-backs, but they could be in for a much sterner test than they had to face against Italy. Chelsea duo Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso ought to line up as the full-backs.
Spain captain Sergio Busquets will anchor the midfield and look to shield his defence by cutting out attacks while recycling possession with efficiency. He will have ample support from the hard-working Koke while Barcelona’s latest teenage prodigy, Gavi, could get another go on the biggest stage after he impressed on his debut in the semi-final.
Torres, should he pass fit, ought to line up on the right flank, although he will regularly veer in centrally and look to get into goalscoring positions. Mikel Oyarzabal, meanwhile, should take up the left-wing, where his combination play with Alonso could pose an issue for the French.
Finally, Pablo Sarabia is likely to get another run-out in the false nine role for Spain against France, with the Sporting CP forward’s main task being to create spaces for those around him with his movement while acting as the first line of press for his team.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Azpilicueta, Laporte, Torres, Alonso; Koke, Busquets, Gavi; Torres, Sarabia, Oyarzabal
N’Golo Kante remains the most notable absentee for France after having missed out from the squad due to coronavirus. Lucas Digne has withdrawn from the roster with an injury, which comes as a blow for Les Bleus. Didier Deschamps has used a three-man defensive line in recent games and might stick to a similar setup on Sunday in order to stifle Spain’s gameplay in the final third.
Captain Hugo Lloris will be manning the goal for the world champions, where he will be shielded by the centre-back trio of Jules Kounde, Raphael Varane and Lucas Hernandez. Benjamin Pavard and Theo Hernandez, who scored the stoppage-time winner against Belgium, ought to be the two wing-backs on the right and left sides, respectively and will be responsible to provide the width going forward.
Aurelien Tchouameni made a solid impression after coming on for Adrien Rabiot in the semi-final. Considering that he has previously worked well alongside Paul Pogba, Deschamps might opt to go with the AS Monaco’s rising star on the big occasion at San Siro. The 21-year-old will be tasked with providing defensive cover while allowing Pogba the freedom to weave his magic in the attacking half.
Antoine Griezmann ought to be deployed in the No. 10 role, where he will have the licence to drift across the pitch in search of openings while creating space for his teammates. Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe will be two strikers up top for France as they look to break open the Spanish defence.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Lloris; Kounde, Varane, L. Hernandez; Pavard, Tchouameni, Pogba, T. Hernandez; Griezmann; Benzema, Mbappe
- This will be the 36th meeting between the two nations. Of the previous 35, Spain have won 16 while France have picked up 12 victories, with the remaining seven ending in draws.
- France have won just one of their last seven encounters with Spain (D1 L5).
- Antoine Griezmann is all set to make his 100th appearance for France when he takes the field against Spain on Sunday.
- Should he score, Griezmann will go past the legendary Michel Platini to become the third-highest goalscorer of all time for the France national team. Currently they are tied on 41.
- Only Ferran Torres has scored more than ten goals for the national team in the current Spain squad (12). The next best tally is that of Mikel Oyarzabal with five strikes.
Player to Watch
Karim Benzema with the players from the top 5 leagues who have scored more goals than him this season 🧐 pic.twitter.com/5LVqxEtB41
— Goal (@goal) October 9, 2021
It will be a game full of superstars who can alter the outcome on their own – the likes of Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe for France, Ferran Torres, Sergio Busquets for Spain. However, one man who could steal the limelight is Ballon d’Or nominee Karim Benzema. The 33-year-old is in the form of his life currently, having been plundering goals for fun for both club and country.
Since his comeback into the side for the Euros, the Frenchman has bagged five goals and an assist in eight games. Benzema was brilliant in Les Bleus’ comeback win against France. Having only returned to the national team earlier this year after a long exile, it will be fitting if he turns to be the man that leads France to the UEFA Nations League glory.
Spain 1-2 France
Spain were brilliant in their dismantling of Italy earlier in the week and will have rested a day longer than their final opponents, which could give them an advantage. France, meanwhile, were terrible in the first half against Belgium, but showed great character and strength to bounce back and win the game and book a place in the finals.
Both teams have stars who can decide the fate of the game, but this France team edges Spain out when it comes to big-game experience – most of the players that Didier Deschamps will start on Sunday were part of their historic World Cup triumph in 2018. Add to that, the form that Karim Benzema is in tips the scales in favour of Les Bleus, even if slightly so.
The Hard Tackle is predicting France to edge Spain out narrowly and lift the UEFA Nations League trophy at San Siro this Sunday night.