Rotterdam, Netherlands, Jun 18 (EFE).- Spain won its first-ever UEFA Nations League title on Sunday, downing Croatia after a tense and hard-fought match in a 4-5 penalty shootout after the teams battled to a scoreless draw that persisted through extra time.
The match was played at the Stadion Feijenoord in Rotterdam, better known as “De Kuip,” before a capacity crowd of 51,000, 6,000 of them Spaniards.
Spain ended an 11-year period during which it had not won the trophy, but netminder Unai Simon managed to stop penalty shots by Lovro Majer and Bruno Petrovic, and it was Dani Carvajal who finally sank the tourney-winning shot using the panenka technique to fake out the already-diving Livakovic.
The win put Spain into the same category as France, garnering a fifth major trophy after having already secured the World Cup, European Championship and now the Nations League.
Spain did poorly in the first half, with nobody able to get a single shot on target, but Croatia had a couple of good chances, one of them a shot by Ivan Perisic that Simon made a desperate dive to save.
Croatia had crushed the Netherlands 4-2 after extra time in the semi-final match on Wednesday and were gunning for their first major tourney win on Sunday.
The Spanish squad almost found the twine in minute 58 when Marco Asensio got a good cross from Jordi Alba and tried for a header that only missed by millimeters.
Mario Pasalic also tried for a header for Croatia, fighting hard, but then Spain increased the tempo getting Fabian Ruiz and Asensio close to the cords … but no cigars.
The Spaniards almost got the 1-0 just four minutes before regulation time but Perisic blocked Ansu Fati’s shot, and Croatia had their chance too in the first extra-time period with Majer coming up short by good – if desperate – defense.
And yet, everything ultimately came down to the shootout.
With Vlasic and Joselu both sinking their shots, as well as Brozovic and Rodri, and Modric and Mikel Merino.
Then Croatia’s Mayer missed but Asensio hit for Spain, putting the Spaniards up 3-4. Next, Perisic hit for Croatia, evening the situation at 4-4, but then Laporte missed for Spain, keeping things at 4-all.
Petkovic failed to hit and then it was Carvajal sinking his shot for the 4-5 winner.
In the third-place match before the final on Sunday, Italy beat the Netherlands 3-2 at Enschede.
Croatia: Livakovic; Juranovic, Sutalo, Erlic, Perisic; Brozovic, Modric, Kovacic; Pasalic (Petkovic, m.61), Ivanusec (Vlasic, m.78) and Kramaric (Majer, m.91).
Spain: Unai Simon; Jesus Navas (Carvajal, m.97), Le Normand (Nacho, m.78), Laporte, Jordi Alba; Rodri, Fabian (Mikel Merino, m.78), Gavi (Dani Olmo, m.87); Marco Asensio, Yeremy Pino (Ansu Fati, m.66) and Morata (Joselu, m.66).