Mbappe and Benzema show Spain exactly what they lack

Without natural striker, Spain stood no chance against France

12 October 2021 - 10:21
By Reuters
France's Karim Benzema celebrates scoring their first goal with  Kylian Mbappe.
Image: Massimo Rana France's Karim Benzema celebrates scoring their first goal with Kylian Mbappe.

Milan - The Nations League Final Four may only be a bite-sized mini-tournament, but this week's action still provided a reminder of one of the game's most enduring truths - it is strikers that win matches.

France beat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's final at the San Siro stadium with goals coming from two of the finest forwards in the modern game - Karim Benzema, who struck a beautiful shot into the corner and Kylian Mbappe who showed outstanding composure for the winner.

In contrast to the world champions' clinical finishing, Spain had dominated the opening 45 minutes, enjoying two thirds of the ball possession but, playing without a recognised striker, they barely tested France keeper Hugo Lloris.

With first-choice centre forwards Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno missing this week's games due to injury, Spain coach Luis Enrique had opted against bringing in a 'pure' striker.

The absence of a real 'number nine' was barely noticed in last Wednesday's 2-1 semi-final win over Italy, where winger Ferran Torres was given a central role and scored both the team's goals.

But against the French, Torres was moved back to his preferred position on the right of a three-pronged forward line and not only was he less effective in that position, without him Spain lacked a central presence.

Mikel Oyarzabal did most of the work down the middle with Pablo Sarabia coming in from the left wing more in the second half and for the most part, France's defence coped, despite losing Raphael Varane to injury in the first half.

Oyarzabal did put Spain ahead but after Benzema's wonderful curling effort to level and Mbappe's cool finish to put France ahead, Spain's frantic attacks lacked the presence of a centre forward.

Every time France attacked with Mbappe's directness, pace and disorientating movement and Benzema's constant probing for space, there was a sense of anticipation from their supporters.

In contrast, when Spain attacked, it was pleasing on the eye but rarely carried a sense of danger.

There is so much talent in Luis Enrique's highly promising side and teenagers like Gavi and Yeremi Pino showed here that the production line from LaLiga continues despite the financial problems at the country's two biggest clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona.

But for Spain to get back to the very top in the international game and regain the World Cup they won in 2010 or the European titles they won in 2008 and 2012, they will surely need to add a top striker to their long list of quality midfielders and wingers.

France though will head to the World Cup in Qatar next November with a frontline that, in itself, makes them one of the favourites.

Mbappe continues to develop as a player, his superb control and lightning pace, combined with a smartness in terms of his ability to exploit spaces and use the ball cleverly when others are in better positions.

Crucially he is now forming a genuine understanding with Benzema in their strike partnership.