There in the madness was Kylian Mbappé, blood running cold. A game of control had gone crazy and that was where France won it, claiming the National league title by coming from behind at San Siro. Karim Benzema got the first, Mbappé the second, sliding the ball under Unai Simón to clinch victory on another ultimately fun night that suggested that this competition is not such a bad idea after all. Not that he did it alone. France would need a dramatic save from Hugo Lloris in the very last minute, too.
They would need more than one, in fact. As the final, frantic moments played out, there were two superb saves, one at each end, and that still wasn’t the end. Spain kept flooding forward desperate for the equaliser, Simón going up for a corner to see if he could salvage something, getting a touch in the scramble that ended with his opposite number making an exceptional stop from Mikel Oyarzabal on 94 minutes, his team mates collapsing on the floor in disbelief.
In the end, though, Mbappé’s goal had done it. Soo too had Didier Deschamps.
Deschamps had said it was impossible to take the ball off Spain, a statement of fact that also felt like a declaration of intent. And so it proved: the first chorus of olés from the Spaniards in Milan, many of them Erasmus students, came midway through the first half and while that was premature, the selección were on their way to taking control. “There’s only one ball,” Luis Enrique had noted and by the half hour mark, it was theirs.
It had taken a little while, France had not renounced possession entirely, at least not to begin with. When they did get the ball there were glimpses of quality with it, as well as a willingness to play out from deep. Twice in the opening ten minutes sharp exchanges looked like opening Spain: the first time, Paul Pogba’s pass released Benzema to go around Simón only for the angle to narrow and the pull back to be cleared by César Azpilicueta; the second, a swift move saw Mbappé just unable to get to the ball at the near post. Not long after, Mbappé stumbled as he looked to dash in behind Eric García.
But that would be almost the last time the PSG forward was seen in the first half. If Spain had had to fight for the right to play – the first two fouls had been theirs, Gavi diving in on Aurélien Tchouameni and Azpilicueta challenging Pogba inside three minutes – they were soon doing just that. Sergi Busquets was the axis on which their play was built. Gavi again belied his seventeen years, turning quickly and often, French players left behind. And Ferrán Torres was the outlet.
Twelve men had warmed up for Spain because of doubts over his fitness but the City attacker, used as a No 9 against Italy, showed no signs of discomfort from a wide right position. Every ball, it sometimes felt, went his way. He was not slow to go at opponents, inside or out. In the case of Theo Hernández inside and out. Mostly though Torres’s crosses were intercepted. An exception came when his angled pass from a deeper and more central position released Pablo Sarabia behind the defence. The shot, on the turn, was scuffed.
For all the control, high though the quality was, there were few chances – a VAR check for a potential Jules Koundé handball was as close as Spain came and that was quickly dismissed – and France may not have been unhappy with what had happened, which was not all that much. Their manager may not have been, anyway. Both coaches could depart at the break believing that this was more or less under control, each in their own different way.
Soon though control had gone and the game was better for it. As the second half began, clarity came from a French mistake, Koundé giving the ball away only for Sarabia to prove unable to make the most of the space suddenly opening in front of him, overhitting his ball across the face of goal towards Torres and Oyarzabal. Immediately, Marcos Alonso had to intercept Mbappé at the other end.
This was opening up, those two moments at each end a sign of what was coming. A wonderful move from deep ended with Mbappé and Benzema combining for Hernández to smash a shot off the underside of the bar, which was still vibrating when Spain scored a hundred metres away. Busquets clipped a lovely pass over the top for Oyarzabal, who held off Dayot Upemecano and guided a perfect shot into the far corner. Just seconds had passed between the two shots and just seconds would pass before the next one, Benzema cutting in from the left and curling a sensational shot into the top corner from the edge of the box to make it 1-1.
A goal each and they were back where they had been. The game, though, was not.
Next Mbappé was denied by Simón, the noise rising, legs tiring. Then Yeremi Pino expertly took down a seventy-yard hoof from Simón on the thigh, turned, and found Koke, Spain almost getting in again. This was wild now, and that suited France, who soon scored the second. Hernández nudged the pass beyond the back four and Mbappé was away, on the very, very edge of offside. One on one with Simón, he paused, looked one way and shot the other, slipping the ball under Simón, VAR validating the goal while replays and the naked eye suggested otherwise, setting up a breathtaking finale.