France pit their restored pride against Spain in Nations League final

Milan (AFP) – France have got their groove back as they prepare for the Nations League final against Spain on the back of a thrilling comeback win over Belgium which helped ease the pain of a poor Euro 2020.

Down by two goals at half-time on Thursday following quickfire strikes from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku, a demoralising run of results and performances appeared set to continue in Turin.

However, driven by an exceptional display by Kylian Mbappe on his 50th France appearance, Les Bleus fought back to level and in a thrilling finale Theo Hernandez crashed home the last-minute winner which set up an exciting final at the San Siro on Sunday.

The Nations League might not be anywhere near as important as the World Cup or European Championship but the wild celebrations among the players and small pocket of France fans at the Allianz Stadium showed just how good it felt to play like world champions again.

Asked where the win ranked on the list of his triumphs as France coach, Didier Deschamps said it was “one of the best”.

“We had one of the best, if not the best teams in the world in front of us… but despite everything, and in a difficult situation we had both quality and pride, character when things don’t go our way,” he told reporters.

Thursday’s win in Deschamps’ old stomping ground of Turin felt like catharsis following a fraught summer marked by the last-16 elimination from the Euro at the hands of Switzerland.

Mbappe in particular put in the sort of performance banished memories of the penalty miss that cost France against the Swiss and reminded people why Real Madrid tried to prise him away from Paris Saint-Germain after the Euro, setting up France’s first and netting the spot-kick which took them level.

– ‘We’re still here’ –

They now head to Milan with a new spring in their step, confident that they can see off a Spain side which stopped Italy’s record run of matches without defeat at 37 with a 2-1 win on Wednesday. 

“So we don’t win all our matches, we don’t win three, four or 5-0 all the time but how many competitive matches do we win?” said Deschamps.

“Ok, we were knocked out of the Euro by the Swiss, but the France national team is still here, and we’re still one of the best teams around.”

Roberto Martinez said after a painful defeat for Belgium that his star-studded team couldn’t handle the weight of expectation that accompanies their matches, but on Sunday France will face opposition with a much more carefree disposition.

The manner with which a Spanish side containing the youthful likes of 17-year-old Gavi swaggered around the San Siro at times on Wednesday suggested that La Roja have genuine hope of success not just for the future, but also right now.

Barcelona midfielder Gavi stunned with his maturity as Spain’s youngest ever player but Yeremi Pino was also impressive when he replaced goal hero Ferran Torres early in the second half, making his international debut less than two weeks from his 19th birthday.

“It was a special match because we lost to them in the Euro semi-final, so what could be better than beating them on their own patch?” said Torres, whose first-half brace sank European champions Italy.

“I’m really happy with the team, and the results keep coming.”

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