Joselu strike sets up Croatia v Spain final

With the prize of a place in the 2022/23 UEFA Nations League Final against Croatia at the De Kuip on Sunday, Spain’s Head Coach Luis de la Fuente named a blend of patterned experience and exciting youth in his starting XI, that included handing Robin Le Normand his international bow alongside Aymeric Laporte at the heart of La Furia Roja’s defence.

Meanwhile, to secure their maiden participation in the showcase feature of UEFA’s state-of-the-art international competition on June 18th, Roberto Mancini named an attack-minded front-three featuring Lazio frontman Ciro Immobile, Premier League summer transfer target Nicolò Zaniolo and marauding-forward wing-back Leonardo Spinazzola.

SPA: Simón; Navas, Le Normand, Laporte, Alba; Rodri, Merino; Rodrigo, Pino, Gavi; Morata 

ITA: Donnarumma; Acerbi, Tolói, Bonucci, Di Lorenzo; Jorginho, Frattesi, Barella; Spinazzola, Zaniolo, Immobile

Taking charge of only his third match in charge of the Spanish national side, Luis de la Fuente’s decision to include Yeremy Pino on his starting team sheet paid dividends almost immediately from kick-off, as the Villarreal playmaker clinically fired in the game’s opening goal after a breakdown of communication within the Azzurri backline. However, not deterred from going behind early on, Italy were back on level terms in the 11th minute as Ciro Immobile made no mistake from the penalty spot, sending his penalty past Unai Simón, as Robin Le Normand began his international career in the worst way possible by handling the ball inside the area. 

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Unbelievably, Roberto Mancini’s side thought they had turned the match on its head in the 21st minute, however, VAR had other ideas, bringing a premature conclusion to Davide Frattesi’s belief that he had netted his maiden goal international goal after discovering that the Sassuolo midfielder had strayed marginally beyond the shoulder of the last Spanish defender. In stark contrast to the enthralling opening exchanges of the contest that had encapsulated the attention of everyone in attendance, the first half concluded in scrappy fashion as both sides ultimately failed in their mission to find a breakthrough before half-time.

In a similar fashion to the opening 45 minutes, Spain flew out of the De Grolsch Veste tunnel as Gianluigi Donnarumma had to be on his toes to prevent Mikel Merino’s close-range flick away from sneaking into the top corner before Álvaro Morata somehow fired the resulting rebound wide. On the back of allowing Unai Simón to be a spectator rather than a participating player throughout the opening twenty minutes of the second half, Italy’s non-existent threat in the opposition area eventually came to an end in the 65th minute, as Athletic Bilbao’s number one produced a sensational point-blank save to keep the goal-hungry Frattesi from getting into name onto the scoresheet. 

That turned out to be the last piece of goalscoring action until the 88th minute, as second-half substitute Joselu perfectly timed the offside trap before instinctively redirecting Rodri’s effort from outside the area past a helpless-looking Donnarumma to subsequently send Spain into the final of the UEFA Nations League.

The victory takes Spain one step closer to gaining their first-ever overall success in the competition, as celebrations at the final whistle extended La Furia Roja’s unbeaten head-to-head record, including extra time and penalties, to two matches. Meanwhile, Italy will now turn their attention to attempting to qualify for the 2024 European Championships after staggeringly missing on a place in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

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