Two thoroughly entertaining UEFA Nations League (UNL) semi-finals have lifted Spain and France, two of the last three World Cup winners, into this UNL showpiece, and a chance to battle each other in the first H2H clash in a major final since 1984. One-quarter of a century after facing off as rival midfielders in the 1996 Euros, either Didier Deschamps or Luis Enrique will win their first UEFA silverware as a national team manager.
Spain avenged their Euro 2020 knockout defeat to Italy in their UNL semi-final on Thursday, ending the Azzurri’s record 37-game unbeaten run in the process, and could be birthing a new generation of title winning footballers after their glory years of 2008-2012.Nonetheless, and despite just one loss over their last 18 games (in 90 mins), that semi-final victory was a fifth consecutive knockout match (in any competition) in which Spain failed to keep a clean sheet. That only reaffirms the burden on their attacking unit, which has been held to one or no goals in four of their seven UNL 2020-21 fixtures, but does offer the rare prospect of goals in a major final against an attacking France side that have their own defensive issues.
Those issues were on display in France’s semi-final, but a brilliant second-half comeback saw them beat Belgium 3-2 and confirmed their place in Sunday’s showpiece event at the San Siro in Milan. That’s helped ‘Les Bleus’ to recover somewhat after their shock exit at Euro 2020, and a record of just one defeat in regulation time over their last 28 games highlights the continued strength of this France squad, although their win against Belgium was just their second win from their last seven starts as favourites.
Pablo Sarabia is the only Spanish player other than Ferran Torres to score in three internationals since the beginning of the Euro 2020 finals, whilst France’s Karim Benzema has been his team’s first goalscorer in a remarkable four of his last five appearances for club or country.
All but one of the last 11 finals in a UNL or Euros has produced fewer than 2.5 total goals (excluding extra time), as have the last seven H2Hs.