IT was a hard-fought slog but one that saw Spain apply the coup de grace with Panenka aplomb to be crowned UEFA Nations League champions last night.

Spain and Croatia had seen off Italy and Holland respectively to meet each other in the final last night in Rotterdam.

While La Furia Roja dominated possession and chances carved out, but only two out of 21 were on target.

Meanwhile, a canny Croatia side that has a habit of reaching – and losing – finals forced Spanish keeper Unai Simon into five saves from 12 shots.

In the end it went to penalties, where Real Madrid’s right-back Dani Carvajal – who had only ever taken one career penalty previously – stepped up and audaciously Paneka’d Croatia’s keeper Dominik Livakovic to win the tournament for Spain. 

(A Panenka is a ballsy penalty kick which is chipped down the middle of the goal mouth – easily caught if the keeper stays on his feet but makes the keeper look foolish if he dives in anticipation of a power shot into the corners.

Croatia Vs Spain In Rotterdam, Netherlands 19 Jun 2023
Jordi Alba of Spain celebrates with the trophy at the end of the UEFA Nations League 2022/23 final match between Croatia and Spain at De Kuip. (Credit Image: © Mohammad Javad Abjoushak/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire)

It is named after the Czechoslovakian footballer Antonín Panenka, who famously executed this technique during the 1976 UEFA European Championship final.)

But what did the notoriously hard-to-please Spanish media make of their national team’s success?

Marca crowned Spain the ‘great dame of Europe’, and gleefully compared La Seleccion’s record of European trophies against its European peers (Germany and France)

“With this League of Nations trophy, the Spanish national team becomes the one with the most impressive record in UEFA competitions,” the outlet crowed.

El Pais called the environment ‘hostile’ and ‘one of the thorniest arenas’. They wrote that Croatia were ‘outclassed by Spain’ but they managed to drive the match into the ‘gorges of extra time for their latest ambush.’

Despite the celebrations, Europapress sounded a note of caution.

‘We will have to wait and see if the ‘new’ Spain and the ideas of ??the new coach sinks in and lasts over time.

“Or if, on the contrary, with the return of players like Pedri, the Spanish national team returns to the one more similar to what we saw in Qatar [when Spain lost on penalties to Morocco after dominating 120 minutes].”

El Mundo wrote: “Honours for the Croatian national team, touching the exaltation of its fighting character.

“But greater honours for the champions, Spain, in this insipid period of its history, without great footballers to cling to.”


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