Dani Carvajal chipped home a Panenka penalty to win Spain the Nations League on Sunday, with a 5-4 shoot-out victory over Croatia, after a tense match finished 0-0 following extra-time.
Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon denied Lovro Mayer and Bruno Petkovic from the spot, before Carvajal cheekily chipped home to earn La Roja their first trophy since Euro 2012 and break Croatian hearts.
Zlatko Dalic’s side, runners-up at the World Cup in 2018 and third in 2022, have never won a major trophy and were hoping Nations League success would cap a glittering international career for captain Luka Modric.
The victory is a confidence boost for new Spain coach Luis de la Fuente after heavy criticism in March after a defeat by Scotland in Euro 2024 qualifying. It also avenged their 2021 final defeat by France.
Dalic warned over 25,000 Croatian fans were expected to travel to Rotterdam and they filled the majority of the stadium, De Kuip a sea of red and white checkered squares, save for a modest area of Spanish fans.
The Croatians chanted Modric’s name in the 10th minute, matching his shirt number, a plea for him not to retire from international duty after the tournament, as had been rumoured.
On the pitch Spain made the early running, with Gavi drilling narrowly wide after pressing furiously to win the ball back.
Just when the game started to fall into a slight lull, under the pink haze of smoke from Croatian flares, Spain were nearly caught out by Josip Juranovic’s long ball over the top for Andrej Kramaric.
The striker ran through on Unai Simon’s goal but just as he pulled the trigger, Aymeric Laporte made a superb lunging block.
Croatia had the momentum and Ivan Perisic twice tested Simon with headers, which the Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper fielded well.
Despite 14 goals in the three preceeding games, the first half finished goalless, just as in the prior two Nations League finals, won by Portugal and France in 2019 and 2021 respectively.