France keen to extend rebound in Nations League final

MILAN (AP) — After a difficult few months, France will be hoping its Nations League victory over Belgium is the spark of a recovery heading into the final against Spain in Milan on Sunday.

An incredible comeback in Turin on Thursday saw France recover from two goals down to beat Belgium 3-2 thanks to a last-minute strike from Theo Hernández.

That was only France’s second win after a run of five consecutive draws for Didier Deschamps’ side, which endured a poor campaign at the European Championship.

“Mentally speaking, we were quite down lately and we needed a key game to get back on track,” France captain Hugo Lloris said on Saturday. “And against Belgium everything was there to find the confidence back.

“It was the case in the second half and I hope it will help us to start the game tomorrow with the best intentions. And I really hope we will see a great face of France. It will be tough … it will be on us to do everything we can on the pitch.”

World champion France was one of the favorites at Euro 2020 but, despite having a squad packed with talent, Les Bleus failed to set the tournament alight and won only one match — the opener against Germany. It lost a penalty shootout to Switzerland in the round of 16, having led 3-1 with 15 minutes remaining.

It seemed more disappointment was in store in the Nations League semifinals on Thursday when France found itself 2-0 down at halftime against Belgium but a stellar performance in the second period saw it book a place in the final.

“We were looking to get back into that kind of feelings the last few months, especially after the defeat against Switzerland at the Euro, and I think this win against Belgium was more than welcome for French football,” Lloris said.

“It’s always a special moment to play a final for your country, even if this competition doesn’t look like a World Cup or Euro, but it’s still a trophy to get.”

It is only the second edition of the UEFA Nations League and while the tournament isn’t held in the highest esteem, the quality of football has been nothing less than spectacular.

France’s thrilling victory was preceded the day before by Spain’s entertaining 2-1 win over European champion Italy. That match was played at breathtaking pace before Leonardo Bonucci’s sending off for the Azzurri shortly before halftime.

Ferran Torres scored both Spain goals to help his side end Italy’s record unbeaten run of 37 matches and reach its first final since Euro 2012.

“For many of us, it’s the first time we play a final with the national team. So it would be fantastic to lift our first trophy,” Torres said. “We are a very young team and tomorrow we will do our all to be able to reach that trophy.

“We play as a team and I think that’s our strong point.”

Spain’s strength will have to counteract the individual brilliance of France’s stellar attack: Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema.

Torres faces a race against time to be fit. He was forced off four minutes into the second half against Italy after picking up a knock.

“I’m an optimistic guy and I honestly think I have a chance to play against France,” Torres said. “I didn’t train today, I will tomorrow. We will all assess it and then we’ll see.”

France and Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot will miss the match after testing positive for the coronavirus. The rest of the squad subsequently underwent extra tests, which all came back negative.

Earlier Sunday, Belgium plays Italy in the third-place match in Turin. Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Thomas Foket have left the Belgium squad after sustaining injuries.

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