KYLIAN MBAPPE scored a controversial ‘offside’ winner to seal a stunning Nations League comeback triumph for France.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar had been a virtual spectator all night as Didier Deschamps’ side struggled to survive their Spanish Inquisition.
But just when his nation was crying out for inspiration, Mbappe conjured up a priceless 80th minute winner for the current world champions.
Spanish defenders were convinced Mbappe was offside before he raced onto Theo Hernandez’s through ball before steering his shot beyond keeper Unai Simon.
But VAR Stuart Attwell gave the benefit of the doubt to the man who was the subject of an unsuccessful £200million bid from Real in the summer.
And that was enough for skipper Hugo Lloris to lift the Nations League trophy after two vital late saves from Mikel Oyarzabal and Yeremy Pino to deny Spain a last-gasp equaliser.
Once again Les Blues had done it the hard way after coming back from a 2-0 half-time deficit in their semi-final win against Belgium on Thursday night.
This time they were only behind for a matter of seconds – and Deschamps was so busy arguing with fourth official Craig Pawson that he actually missed Karim Benzema’s 66th minute equaliser.
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It was a cruel blow for a Spanish side who had dominated possession for most of this final clash in Milan’s San Siro Stadium.
After ending Italy’s world record 37-game unbeaten international run in midweek, they thought they were destined for further glory when Oyarzabal broke the deadlock after a dismal first hour.
Yet they could have been behind after just six minutes when Paul Pogba’s sumptuous through ball split the entire Spanish defence.
But Benzema was forced too wide as he tried to go around keeper Simon and his attempted cut back to Antoine Griezmann was cut out by Eric Garcia.
The former Manchester City central defender was forced into another last-gasp intervention by Benjamin Pavard’s cross as Spain struggled to cope with the early pressure.
And when Luis Enrique’s team finally managed to get the ball down the other end of the pitch, Pablo Sarabia’s shot was so weak that it barely reached keeper Hugo Lloris.
Spain thought they should have had a 30th minute penalty when Rodri’s cross struck Jules Kounde on the elbow but ref Anthony Taylor was unmoved and Attwell backed him up.
France, despite their bright start, were clearly missing the midfield drive of Adrian Rabiot after the Juventus star tested positive for Covid on the eve of this final.
And their prospects were further hampered when £41million Manchester United defender Raphael Varane pulled up with what appeared to be a calf injury in the 40th minute.
In a match which was rapidly deteriorating into a battle of wills, Pogba and Kounde were both booked for late challenges on Sergi Busquets as Spain continued to dominate possession after the break.
Yet their final pass was repeatedly found wanting as the lacking of a cutting edge constantly undid their good approach work.
The neutral crowd at Milan’s San Siro had certainly expected more goal action than this after last week’s semi-final thrillers.
But just when it looked as though this final was dying on its feet, the game suddenly exploded into life in the space of two crazy minutes.
Hernandez thought he had broken the deadlock when his 64th minute shot came back off the underside of the bar.
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But Spain went straight down the other end with a beautiful ball over the top from Busquests for Oyarzabal to hold off sub Dayot Upamecano before slotting his shot past Lloris.
Yet Spanish celebrations had not even subsided before their team were back on level terms as France worked the ball out to Benzema for a magnificent strike into the top corner.
And with extra-time beckoning Mbappe was the calmest man in the San Siro as he held his nerve to show just why he is rated the most valuable footballer on the planet.
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