Spain’s Joselu celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the Nations League semifinal soccer match between Spain and Italy at the De Grolsch Veste stadium in Enschede, eastern Netherlands, on June 15, 2023 | Photo Credit: AP
Substitute Joselu scored a lucky winner three minutes from the end as Spain booked their place in a second consecutive Nations League final with a deserved 2-1 victory over Italy on Thursday .
Coach Luis de la Fuente’s side will face Croatia in Sunday’s decider in Rotterdam after losing to France in the last two years. Italy will face host Netherlands for the bronze medal.
Spain capitalized on a defensive lapse to take the lead inside three minutes when Yeremy Pino produced a cool finish, but when debutant Robin Le Normand handled the ball in the box, Italy’s Ciro Immobile scored his first international goal in two years from the penalty spot.
Extra time looked inevitable as both teams ran out of ideas in search of a winner, and perhaps fittingly it came in strange circumstances when Rodri’s fierce shot bounced off two defenders and kindly fell to Joselu to head home from four yards.
The result was a repeat of their 2021 semi-final and it was a battle between Spain’s possession game and Italy’s ability to hit them on the counter-attack with the fast break.
Spain enjoyed 61% of the ball, but as has been the case for them in recent times they struggled to use it.
They were given the opener when Yeremy caught Leonardo Bonucci, and the Spaniard slipped the ball into the far corner.
But Italy quickly recovered from their own fortunes. They were awarded a clear penalty when debutant center back Le Normand handled the ball in the box and Immobile sent Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon the wrong way from the spot.
Italy thought they had hit the lead when Jorginho’s superb pass put Davide Frattesi through on goal, but his calm finish went to waste as he was ruled offside by inches.
Spain almost regained the lead when Mikel Merino’s shot was well saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma and Alvaro Morata put the loose ball inches wide of the post.
At the other end, Simon made a stop to deny Davide Frattesi from a fast Italian break.
The game ground to a halt in the final 20 minutes before Joselu, who had been on the pitch for just three minutes, was in the right place at the right time to guide Spain to another final.
“Spain deserved it, even if they only found the goal near the end. Our set up was a bit different, but we couldn’t do much in the second half,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI.