MILAN: France’s Kylian Mbappe (left) and Karim Benzema celebrate with the trophy at the end of the Nations League final football match between Spain and France at San Siro stadium in Milan on Sunday. – AFP

MILAN: Didier Deschamps heaped praise on Karim Benzema after the once-exiled forward played a key role in France’s Nations League triumph. Benzema scored France’s equalizer in a 2-1 win over Spain which handed the world champions the trophy, and Deschamps was delighted with his striker. “Karim is a crucial player and he has proved over two matches that he has very obvious talent, it’s there for all to see,” Deschamps told reporters. “He has improved in different areas, he’s clinical, he plays his part in the build-up.”

Real Madrid forward Benzema had been banished from the national team for over five years but was recalled by Deschamps ahead of Euro 2020. He performed impressively in the Nations League Final Four in Italy, pulling a goal back with France two down in their 3-2 win over Belgium on Thursday and levelling the scores on Sunday night with a sumptuous curling shot just after Mikel Oyarzabal had put Spain ahead. “From a personal perspective he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured. He’s been at the highest level for a long while now and I’m delighted he’s able to celebrate tonight with France.”

Enrique proud
Luis Enrique said Sunday that he was happy with his Spain side despite them coming up short. Spain went ahead in an exciting clash at the San Siro in Milan through Mikel Oyarzabal’s strike midway through the second half but were overhauled by Benzema’s goal and Kylian Mbappe’s winner 10 minutes from time.

The defeat came after a strong performance which could easily have been rewarded by taking the match to extra-time had it not been for some fine saves from Hugo Lloris late on. “I know that we were able to win against European champions and play almost even with the world champions so for players and the team that is all good,” Luis Enrique told reporters. “The important thing is that the team maintains its personality and will to win.”

Mbappe’s decisive strike made the Spain players livid as they were convinced it should have been ruled out for offside but a VAR check ensured that the goal stood. However Luis Enrique did not want to aim any anger at referee Anthony Taylor, insisting that he wanted to concentrate on his team’s positive display. “We don’t have the best point of view on pitch as coaches but I think this decision was difficult,” he added.

“I don’t want to say anything about it. I’m used to not talking about referees and concentrate on what I can control. “I’ve been a coach for 10 years and I’ve never spoken about referees. I’ve got nothing to say, I’m concentrating on trying to get my team to play the best way and accepting wins and losses.” – AFP