You could see the emotion in Kylian Mbappé after he wheeled away in celebration. Having missed the penalty which sent France crashing out of Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland, he had now scored the goal to make amends. Completing a comeback from 1-0 down, Mbappé’s winner gave Les Bleus a 2-1 win over Spain and sealed their first UEFA Nations League title.
The Nations League pales in significance when compared to the European Championship, especially when you consider that France were aiming to become the incumbent world and European champions. But nonetheless, Mbappé will have felt a lot better about himself for making a positive contribution for his country.
Of course, it is overly simplistic to lay the failures of France’s Euro 2020 campaign squarely on the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s shoulders, when it was the team as a whole who underperformed. The crazy 3-3 draw with Switzerland in the last 16, which led to that fateful penalty shootout, was a result of France’s inability to manage the game or make their superiority count. For a team of their calibre, no match should be descending into such chaos, and France paid the price for defensive indiscipline.
But in light of France’s Nations League triumph, the pain of that penalty heartbreak can be eased somewhat. The team has a slightly more youthful element compared to the side that won the World Cup three years ago, but it is still the same group of players, and it’s important that France pick up as much silverware as they can whilst they’re enjoying this golden generation of talent.
While their Nations League finals was fraught, you can’t say Didier Deschamps side haven’t shown resilience. They looked dead and buried by half-time in their semi-final against Belgium. First-half goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku had left France shell-shocked, and in need of a miracle to defy the online sports betting.
That miracle duly arrived. Goals from Karim Benzema and an Mbappé penalty brought the scores level with 20 minutes to go, and from there it was anyone’s game. Lukaku thought he had won it at the death, but his close-range finish was denied by a VAR offside decision. Seconds later, France had gone up the other end and booked their place in the final, thanks to Theo Hernández’s venomous drive.
And so, to Milan for the final, where Spain stood in their way after knocking out European champions and Nations League hosts Italy. After a cagey 60 minutes or so, the game exploded into life. Mikel Oyarzabal gave Spain the lead, and for a moment they were the favourites in the online betting tips, but France hit back straight away through a Benzema screamer.
France pressed home their advantage, and Mbappé notched the winner with 10 minutes remaining, although not without a hint of controversy. The French striker was offside when receiving the ball, but the officials adjudged that an attempted interception by Eric García initiated a new phase of play.
France didn’t care, Mbappé didn’t care, they had won the Nations League. In the midst of the celebrations, the tickertape, and the hoisting of the trophy aloft, that dismal defeat to Switzerland at Euro 2020 felt a long time ago.