Joselu scored a late winner to help Spain produce one of the narrow football scores of the weekend in the UEFA Nations League. Yeremy Pino’s early goal (3) gave Luis de la Fuente’s team the lead, but Italy fought back thanks to Ciro Immobile’s penalty (11), which came after Nicolo Zaniolo’s effort hit Robin Le Normand in the arm. Midway through the first half of the tightly contested match, Davide Frattesi’s goal was disallowed for offside by VAR, leaving the score at 1-1. After the interval, the level of play declined as both teams’ players grew weary. Spain appeared to have the best chance of winning when Alvaro Morata sent a low shot wide from the outside of the six-yard box and Rodri’s acrobatic attempt sailed just over the crossbar for Man City.
However, as extra time loomed, Unai Simon made a superb reaction save to deny Frattesi before Joselu appeared two minutes from time to direct Rodri’s deflected shot into the goal to advance Spain to the final. They will now compete against Croatia, who defeated the Netherlands 4-2 in overtime on Wednesday, in Rotterdam on Sunday (kickoff: 7.45 p.m.), while Italy will compete against the Dutch in the third-place play-off on Sunday as well
Italy was penalised for some careless passing out of the back during the hectic first period when Pino stole the ball from Leonardo Bonucci and fired past Gianluigi Donnarumma into the far corner to give Spain the lead. It was short-lived, though, as Italy retaliated right away. Zaniolo was found in the area by Jorginho’s pin-point cross, and the Galatasaray winger’s volley hit Le Normand in the hand. Immobile neatly buried the penalty to tie the score for Italy after referee Slavko Vincic patiently pointed to the spot.
Both teams continued to battle to get control of the hectic game, but Italy believed they had grabbed the lead when Frattesi pounced on another wonderful through pass from Jorginho and finished past custodian Simon. The Sassuolo midfielder nearly missed timing his run, but VAR interfered. Up to the end of the first half, both teams continued to have opportunities. Donnarumma twice stopped Alvaro Morata, while Rafael Toloi’s 30-yard shot almost missed the crossbar.
Following the interval, Spain was the team that started off strong. Donnarumma stopped replacement Marco Asensio from close range, and Morata then missed the rebound. As Spain pushed to retake the lead, Rodri’s hooked attempt came inches from connecting, and Italy’s greatest opportunity of the second half, a shot from eight yards by Frattesi, required Simon to perform at the top of his game. As both sides began to run out of strategies and motivation to find a winner, extra time appeared inevitable. However, Rodri’s attempt rebounded off two defenders and dropped pleasantly for Joselu, who poked home from four yards to start the Spanish celebrations.
The Espanyol striker Joselu’s victory is the latest in a spectacular late-career ascent. The 33-year-old has scored three goals in three outings since making his international debut in March. Despite his side being relegated, he finished the season with 16 goals, placing third in La Liga just behind Karim Benzema of Real Madrid and Robert Lewandowski of Barcelona.
“When we can declare that we are in the final, I feel really thrilled, proud of the team, and glad for the coach,” Spain right-back Jesus Navas said. “Our perseverance and attitude were both excellent. The team worked so hard, and everyone gave it their all, but I’m thrilled for Joselu because it was him who scored the game-winning goal.“
“I would characterize this victory as one of satisfaction and pride,” said De la Fuente. “We engaged in a pretty competitive game. Before the game, we communicated our expectations to the players, and they complied completely. We were thrilled to see guys with great talent contribute to this victory.“
In the Sunday Nations League final at Stadion Feijenoord in Rotterdam, Spain will face Croatia. Starting at 7:45 p.m. At the FC Twente Stadion in Enschede on Sunday, Italy will meet the Netherlands for third place. 2 PM start time.
For more football scores, click here