Three years since its inception, it’s still somewhat difficult to nail down the exact meaning and importance of the UEFA Nations League. Established to eliminate the monotony of friendlies that plagued the international game for years, it has succeeded in offering more excitement, but many have yet to make a call on whether it constitutes a major trophy.
Nonetheless, this year’s UEFA Nations League finals have been quite the spectacle with Spain knocking out Euro 2020 winners Italy on Wednesday night before a whirlwind match between Belgium and France saw the 2018 World Cup winners fight back from 2-0 down to win 3-2.
Sunday’s final between Spain and France has the potential to keep this trend with both teams demonstrating their attacking verve in their semi-final victories. While the true status of the UEFA Nations League might still be unclear, Spain and France will want to win having come this far.
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Spain will likely attempt to control the contest through their use of the ball. This is something Luis Enrique’s side did well during Euro 2020 and against Italy at San Siro on Wednesday night. Indeed, their midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Gavi and Koke dictated the tempo of the match, even more so after Leonardo Bonucci’s red card reduced Italy to 10 men.
There’s a good chance France will be content to concede the majority of possession to Spain. After all, Didier Deschamps’ side are most dangerous when they have space to burst into on the counter attack. This is where they do their best work through the likes of Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and of course Kylian Mbappe who has the pace to expose any high line.

France's forward Kylian Mbappe (R) celebrates with France's forward Karim Benzema after scoring a goal during the UEFA Nations League semi-final football match between Belgium and France at the Juventus stadium in Turin, on October 7, 2021

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Deschamps might once again opt for a back three. The purpose of this against Belgium was to mask a lack of central midfield options (N’Golo Kante is currently missing after testing positive for Covid-19) and make the most of a squad that appears well-suited to playing with wing backs. There was a balance to France even if a passive first half saw them go 2-0 down.
Indeed, the back three deployed against Belgium allowed Deschamps to squeeze Lucas and Theo Hernandez into the same lineup. This gave France an outlet down the left side of the pitch, something they lacked at the Euros. On the right side, Les Blues also had Jules Kounde in behind Benjamin Pavard.
This new defensive structure didn’t do much to keep Belgium out, but it did help France impose their own game on the number one ranked team in the world. There was greater dynamism to Les Blues’ play as they were able to get out from the back with more movement and drive.

Gavi, durante el Italia-España de semifinales de Nations League

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France’s 3-5-2 shape also suited them in the attacking third, where Benzema and Mbappe were deployed as a front two with Griezmann filling the space around them. Deschamps’ double pivot of Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot were positioned deep, but this afforded France’s front three the space they needed to thrive, particularly in the second half.
Spain will carry an attacking threat of their own on Sunday night with Ferran Torres growing into his role as a true number nine. The Manchester City forward scored both goals in the UEFA Nations League semi-final win over Italy and could now be seen as Enrique’s first choice centre forward over Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno.
If Spain are to win at San Siro on Sunday, it will be because they know how to suffocate opponents. There is no team better than this in the international game right now. If, however, they allow France to breathe, the world champions have the attacking quality to blow away any opponent.
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