After a bitterly disappointing outing at the European Championship in the summer, it was a moment of redemption for France and most importantly Kylian Mbappe in the final of the UEFA Nations League as they came from behind, for the second time in the finals to beat Spain 2-1.
A stunning curler into the top corner from Karim Benzema and a well taken goal by Mbappe helped France overcome Mikel Oyarzabal's opener and the world champions became the winners of the second edition of the UEFA Nations League, after Portugal won the inaugural edition.
Spain were boosted by the news that Ferran Torres, who had gone off injured in the semifinal clash against Italy was passed fit. Luis Enrique also started Eric Garcia and Rodri ahead of Pau Torres and Koke.
France on their part were forced to make a change in the middle with Adrien Rabiot ruled out, having contracted Covid-19 and was replaced by Aurelien Tchouameni. Didier Deschamps brought in Presnel Kimpebe to replace one of the Hernandez brothers, who both started their first game together for France against Belgium, Lucas Hernandez.
Expectations were very much high of the game, witnessing two of the biggest footballing nations in the world. The quality of both teams and their styles of play were enough to keep every viewer glued to their seat.
Disappointingly, however, the first 45 minutes lived short of expectations, largely due to both teams employing a cautious approach to the game, not wanting to get caught laxing.
The second period was far better and produced what was initially expected by fans and ultimately providing the three goals, all well taken.
Hugo Lloris was tested in the 12th minute by an effort from Pablo Sarrabia, but the Tottenham stopper wouldn't have had an easier save to make.
While Spain saw more of the ball, they struggled to carve the French defence open. Oyarzabal, who was playing in the false 9 position struggled at first to find his feet, but eventually did and got the goal. Ferran Torres had played in that position against Italy and excelled, getting two goals. Perhaps, it was the willingness to be unpredictable that allowed Luis Enrique move him wide in the match.
There were shouts for a penalty when a Rodri cross hit Jules Kounde, but an in-game VAR check was all that was needed to wave off the call for such.
France had more defending to do keeping Spain at bay and were dealt a big blow with about two minutes of the half to go when Raphael Varane pulled up with a thigh injury. He was eventually replaced by new Bayern Munich defender, Dayot Upamecano, who may have been culpable for Spain's goal.
Another shout for a penalty was made four minutes to the hour mark. This time, a firm but clean challenge by Aurelien Tchouameni, who stepped in for Rabiot saw 17-year old Gavi go down in the box, but the referee was not having any of it and VAR also didn't see anything wrong.
The game came to live in the 63rd minute. France had raced towards Spain's goal in a counterattacking move, the end result of which saw Theo Hernandez cannon his shot against the underside of the bar. In the twinkle of an eye, from the same attack, Spain turned it around in to their own counterattack and Sergio Busquet released Oyarzabal with the final ball, who beat the challenge of Upamecano to slot past Lloris into the far corner. Upamecano is obviously stronger and with a bigger frame than Oyarzabal. How the Spaniard was able to overpower him, even when he looked to have almost lost the ball with his first attempt is still a mystery.
The goal felt like a sting on France and without allowing the Spanish fans finish their celebration, Real Madrid striker, Karim Benzema broke the hearts of those that cheer him every week, when he finished off a fine move with a beautiful curler on the inside left of the attack just inside the box, taking his tally to two in two for the Les Blues at the Nations League finals. It was indeed a fruitful decision to call him out of retirement and back to the national team right in time for the finals.
Not long after, France took the lead and profited from a deflection off Eric Garcia. A pass into Spain's box was deflected by Garcia unto the path of Mbappe, which changed the phase of play according to the rules of the game and the French striker, who initially was offside was able to take the ball, making a number of step overs before slotting under Unai Simon in goal.
It was a big redemption for France from a disappointing Euros outing and of course, Mbappe, who missed the decisive kick in their penalty shootout loss to Switzerland in the quarterfinal. Didier Deschamps can now fully focus his mind on defending their world cup title next year in Qatar.
Spain may have felt a bit undone, but they definitely gave good account of themselves with a very young squad. Gavi and Yeremi Pino impressing in their first outings. Luis Enrique should be able to build on this.