After receiving a lot of criticism in March following Spain’s loss to Scotland in Euro 2024 qualifying, the team’s victory gives new coach Luis de la Fuente more reason to be optimistic.
Dani Carvajal converted a Panenka penalty for Spain to win the Nations League on Sunday, defeating Croatia 5-4 in a penalty shootout after extra time ended goalless.
Before Carvajal jokingly chipped home to give La Roja their first trophy since Euro 2012 and break the hearts of Croatian players, Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon saved from Lovro Mayer and Bruno Petkovic from the spot.
Zlatko Dalic’s team, runners-up at the World Cup in 2018 and third in 2022, has never won a major trophy. They were hoping that winning the Nations League would end captain Luka Modric’s glittering international career.
After receiving a lot of criticism in March following Spain’s loss to Scotland in Euro 2024 qualifying, the team’s victory gives new coach Luis de la Fuente more reason to be optimistic. It also avenged their loss to France in the final in 2021.
Dalic warned that over 25,000 Croatian fans were anticipated to travel to Rotterdam. These fans occupied the majority of the stadium, making De Kuip a sea of checkered red and white squares, with the exception of a small portion of Spanish fans.
In the tenth minute, the Croatians chanted Modric’s name and shirt number, pleading with him not to quit international duty after the tournament, as had been rumored.
Spain started the game on the field, and after pressing hard to get the ball back, Gavi shot just wide.
Spain were almost caught out by Josip Juranovic’s long ball over the top for Andrej Kramaric just as the game started to slow down, under the pink smoke from Croatian flares.
Aymeric Laporte made an excellent lunging block just as the striker pulled the trigger on Unai Simon’s goal.
Ivan Perisic put Simon to the test twice with headers as Croatia gained momentum, which the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper successfully stopped.
The first half ended goalless, as it did in the previous two Nations League finals, which Portugal and France won in 2019 and 2021, respectively, despite scoring 14 goals in the three games before.