After a tight game ended 0-0 after extra time, Dani Carvajal chipped in a Panenka penalty to give Spain the Nations League on Sunday with a 5-4 shootout victory over Croatia.
Prior to Carvajal’s cheeky chip goal, Spain’s Unai Simon saved Lovro Mayer and Bruno Petkovic from the penalty spot, giving La Roja their first trophy since Euro 2012 and breaking the hearts of the Croatians.
Having finished third in 2022 and third at the World Cup in 2018, Zlatko Dalic’s team was hopeful that victory in the Nations League would bring an end to captain Luka Modric‘s illustrious international career.
The victory gives new Spain coach Luis de la Fuente more self-assurance after receiving harsh criticism in March following a loss to Scotland in the Euro 2024 qualifying round. It also made up for France’s ultimate loss against them in 2021.
Over 25,000 Croatian supporters traveled to Rotterdam as predicted by Dalic, and they occupied the bulk of the stadium, De Kuip, a sea of red and white checkered squares, with the exception of a small section of Spanish supporters.
The Croatians begged Modric not to end his international career after the competition, as had been rumored, as they screamed his name in the 10th minute, matching his shirt number.
On the field, Spain made the early advances. Gavi, who had been pressing ferociously to win the ball back, fired a shot that was just wide.
Under the pink swirl of smoke from Croatian flares, just as the game appeared to be entering a short lull, Josip Juranovic’s long ball over the top for Andrej Kramaric almost caught Spain off guard.
Aymeric Laporte made an outstanding lunging block as the striker was running through on Unai Simon’s goal.
Ivan Perisic tried Simon twice with headers while Croatia was in the ascendancy, but the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper handled both of them expertly.
The first half ended scoreless, just like in the previous two Nations League finals, which Portugal and France respectively won in 2019 and 2021, despite 14 goals in the three games that came before.