Young Spain face threat from France in final

TURIN, Italy: Spain and France meet on Sunday at San Siro Stadium in the Nations League final after a week in which the competition, which is only in its second edition, really held its promises.

UEFA launched the Nations League in 2018 amid much confusion over the format and skepticism as to whether such a competition was necessary or desired given the importance of the European Championship and the World Cup. for national teams.

The argument from the European football governing body was that replacing friendly matches with competitive matches in a mini-group format, with a Final Four tournament at the end, would provide better entertainment value for fans and a higher level of entertainment. more meaningful action for players.

This week’s games, delivered in a fast-paced playoff format, certainly provided the quality and excitement fans are looking for and no one who has seen them, whether on the venues or on TV, would have considered that. they were “insignificant” to the players anyway.

In fact, in this concentrated format, the competition offers the commercial end of a tournament without all the work involved through a group stage, travel between multiple venues, and the slow build-up throughout a month. matches.

Spain’s 2-1 victory over European champion Italy on Wednesday in Milan, followed by the thrilling return of France to beat Belgium 3-2 in Turin a day later, were matches that could have honor the final stages of any of the established international tournaments.

Sunday’s final promises the same.

France are world champions and have a top three that is arguably unmatched in the game – the brilliance and speed of Kylian Mbappe, the lethal finish of Karim Benzema and the skill and cunning of Antoine Griezmann.

Spain went through a period of transition under Luis Enrique, not only in terms of personnel but also style, and against Italy they clearly showed their direction of travel.

Luis Enrique has been ready to turn to the more inexperienced young players, with 17-year-old Barcelona midfielder Gavi making an impressive debut against Italy having made just three starts for his club Barcelona.

The injuries mean Spain no longer has their recognized attackers at Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno this week, but in their absence Manchester City’s Ferran Torres, theoretically a winger, played in the middle and scored both goals against the ‘Italy.

While Spain still cherish possession, they move to midfield much faster than in the past and have a refreshing franchise in the wide areas where Mikel Oyarzabal and Pablo Sarabia shone against the Azzurri and another teenager, Yeremi Pino. , impressed on the bench.

France coach Didier Deschamps has upgraded his side to a 3-4-3 formation with attacking full-backs in Benjamin Pavard and Theo Hernandez dangerous throughout against Belgium and it will be fascinating to see who takes control of the large areas finally.

At the end of Sunday night, a team will be lifting the Nations League trophy and although this silverware does not carry the prestige of the European Championship won by Italy in July, it will be difficult for anyone to claim that it has no sense.

(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)

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