Football Features

“A statement of intent, the gauntlet thrown down” – Player ratings as France leave it late to beat Spain in Nations League final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:40, 10 October 2021

In a dramatic night of football, France came from behind again to beat Spain 1-2 in the Nations League final.

Luis Enrique’s men dominated much of the game with composed and intelligent play but Les Bleus took home the 2021 Nations League thanks to two stunning goals (and a lucky roll with a ridiculous offside law) from their fearsome forwards.

Here’s how the players rated at San Siro:

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Unai Simon – 6 – Could do nothing about Benzema’s thunderbolt but perhaps wasn’t as strong as he should have been on Mbappé’s winner.

Cesar Azpilicueta – 7 – A hard-working display at the back defending his flank, but absolutely should have closed Benzema down before the Frenchman got his shot off to find the equaliser.

Eric Garcia – 5 – Defended superbly for the most part against the searing pace and skill of the French forwards, however the inevitable happened with 10 minutes to go and he got rinsed by Mbappé for the tournament-winning goal.

The deflection he made shouldn’t have meant Mbappé was onside, that part of the rule is ridiculous, but if Garcia was in any way as good as he is hyped to be then he wouldn’t have been desperately fumbling for the ball like a drunk college student trying to find his house keys at 4am and would have just stepped up and played the French forward offside. But he panicked, lunged, and Spain lost the game.

Aymeric Laporte – 8 – Was an absolute colossus yet again. Some of the tackles he pulled off to stop the French forwards were great.

Marcos Alonso – 7 – A balanced performance in both defence and attack.

Sergio Busquets – 8 – Ran the show. France put one guy on him the whole game, two guys on him for most of the time and that wasn’t enough. They needed three to get at him, that’s how fantastic The Grandmaster was tonight. Put France in a chokehold and kept Spain on the front foot for 90% of the game, including a staggering assist for the opening goal. Recognised for this by winning “Player of the Finals” for his dominance in both the semi-final and final.

Rodri – 8 – Brilliant alongside Busquets at the heart of the Spanish midfield, helping to subdue the fabulous French.

Gavi – 8 – Another staggering showing from the teenage sensation. He just does not look like a 17 year-old and handily outdid all of the French play

Pablo Sarabia – 6 – Knitted play nicely enough to help Spain dominate but just lacked the speed and/or the guile to escape the French defence and provide the kind of threat you want from a forward.

Mikel Oyarzabal – 7 – A lively and driven display from the Real Sociedad man. Oyarzabal looked Spain’s likeliest source of a goal with his movement and link play and in the end proved to be just that after Busquets sent him through he held off Upamecano to blast Spain into a stunning lead almost redeeming himself after his massive misses in the Euro 2020 semi-final. Almost pulled out an equaliser late on, but was denied by a great save from Lloris.

Ferran Torres – 5 – Was clearly not fit. Offered nothing beyond hard-work.


Yeremi Pino (for Sarabia 61′) – 5 – Had a few moments where he could have used his pace and trickery, but seemed to freeze given the occasion.

Mikel Merino (for Ferran 84′) – 5 – Couldn’t get into the game.

Pablo Fornals (for Rodri 84′) – 6 – Had a late shot blocked.

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Hugo Lloris – 8 – Made some colossal saves at the end to keep France ahead.

Jules Koundé – 8 – Superbly effective at the back, using his speed to keep Spain at arm’s length.

Raphael Varane – 7 – Was defending very well until stretching to clear a cross (which he did) forced him off with an injury. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must have been sinking into his sofa watching his defensive pillar slump down on the pitch then hobble off.

Presnel Kimpembe – 7 – A decent display.

Benjamin Pavard – 7 – Solid in defence but offered nothing in attack. This 3-4-1-2 really exposes that Pavard is not a natural full-back and would be better served playing in the back three.

Aurelian Tchouameni – 7 – France’s best midfielder defensively (which is what the French were doing most of the game). Constantly battling the rotating Spanish midfielders and doing a decent job of him. One feels sorry for him that Kanté will take his place, because this kid is the real deal.

Paul Pogba – 7 – Completely overrun by the Spanish passing carousel, however the only decent attacks France were able to create came because Pogba was able to escape the clutches of Busquets and move himself and the ball forward. Such an incredibly gifted player and a privilege to watch.

Theo Hernandez – 7 – His rocket of a shot off the bar sparked the match to life and his assist for Mbappé’s goal was sublime.

Antoine Griezmann – 7 – Was assigned to bother and badger Busquets and did a decent job in that he forced his former team-mate to play excellently to have any influence on the game.

Karim Benzema – 8 – If ever a human being embodied the Future “sensational” meme, it’s Karim Benzema right now. Even though he had almost no service he made the most of it by creating more chances than anyone else on the pitch (4) and scored a simply outrageous equaliser, bending a beautiful ball back in from a billion miles out to sail into the top corner.


Kylian Mbappé – 8 – Got kicked by Garcia in the first-half and that seemed to really throw him off his game as he was a spluttering mess for most of it. However in classic Mbappé fashion he bagged an assist for Benzema’s equaliser and then scored the game-winning goal with an intensely composed finish.

After his Euro 2020 woes, where he didn’t score and missed a decisive penalty, this felt like a statement of intent from the fantastic Frenchman, a gauntlet thrown down that you can’t even beat him on a bad day, and a repetition of the declaration that he is a world-class force who can and will dominate the biggest stages for club and country.


Dayot Upamecano (for Varane 43′) – 4 – Had only one major piece of defending to do and failed to clear the ball before Oyarzabal’s goal.

Leo Dubois (for Pavard 80′) – n/a – Came on late.

Jordan Veretout (for Griezmann 90’+1) – n/a – Came on late.