Spain won the UEFA Nations League for the third time in three years, defeating Croatia on penalties after a goalless draw in the final in Rotterdam.
Player of the Match: Marcelo Brožović (Croatia)
“His relentless effort both in and out of possession. Connecting the attack from the back line to the front line and working really hard defensively to cover nearly the entire pitch.”
Player of the Match: Marcelo Brozović
Elvir Islamović, Croatia reporter
It was a true chess match between the two major teams. Croatia fought valiantly and controlled the game with great discipline, but they were defeated on penalties by Spain. This generation blew a huge opportunity to win their country’s first trophy, but they have no need to be angry. This is still a winning team with the strongest lineup in Croatian history. They return home with silver in the Nations League after two World Cup medals, which only the finest teams can do.
Graham Hunter, Spain reporter
The ‘old’ Spain, which won two EUROs and a World Cup during their ‘golden period,’ did not play like this. They had command and control. They then launched an attack. La Roja was once again afflicted with their modern disease. There is no deadly touch. Blue-collar tenacity replaced blue-ribbon brilliance. The match was eventually in their grasp. It appeared that they would continue to waste chances and fluff their lines, but in the end, two great saves from their goalie were enough.
“We have to remember that the 16 best teams in Europe were involved, and the best four were in the semi-finals,” said Spain’s coach, Luis de la Fuente. Making it to the finals is a significant accomplishment. We deserve to be recognized. We faced a top squad that was seasoned and finished third in the World Cup, so it was a significant deal.”
Spain defender Dani Carvajal: “It wasn’t my choice [to take a penalty] – I put my hand up.” I’ve only ever taken one shot in my career, in the Spanish Super Cup, but I really wanted this one. I went to the manager after the game. They were putting together a five-player shortlist, and I told them that if any of the players were apprehensive or lacked confidence, I would pick one, and if not, I would take the sixth. In the end, the game provided me with the opportunity I desired.”
“We showed such mental strength as a team,” says Rodri, a midfielder for Spain. We performed admirably during the extra time. Especially in the shootout. When you come here, it’s all about winning. We were quite competitive. Against a team that ousted Brazil from the World Cup and always appears to reach the finals. We had a great team and were able to compete and eventually beat them.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dali: “First and foremost, I congratulate Spain and our players on a fantastic game.” Thank you to everyone who came out to support us. We lost, which is unfortunate, but we must be proud. We advanced to the finals but did not win. You can win some games and lose others. The stakes were high, the game was difficult, and the opponent was formidable. We ran for another 120 minutes. We were good enough to compete with them. “I have nothing to be sorry about.”
Croatia midfielder Lovro Majer: “We’re disappointed – especially me, because I didn’t convert my penalty – but that’s football.” We did everything we could but were defeated by penalties. We performed admirably in the competition.”
Spain appeared in the Nations League final for the second time in a row, becoming the first country to do it on several occasions.
La Roja failed to score for the second time in 20 Nations League games, while Croatia failed to score for the second time in 16 games.
Spain has won five of the last seven major international final event deciders (EURO, Nations League, and World Cup).
After France, La Roja became the second side to win the EURO, World Cup, and Nations League.
Croatia has played extra time on eight occasions in the last two World Cup final games, UEFA EURO 2020 and now this one; they have won six – four on penalties – but lost the other two to Spain.
What happens next?
In September, Croatia will face Latvia and Armenia, while Spain will face Georgia and Cyprus in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2024.
The next UEFA Nations League season, which will include quarter-finals and promotion/relegation play-offs, will begin in September 2024, with the finals taking place the following June.