Spain has punched its ticket to the Nations League finals, courtesy of a dramatic 88th minute goal by Alvaro Morata to defeat Portugal.
The Spaniards entered Tuesday’s match in Braga with their backs against the wall, in need of an outright win to advance to the Nations League finals next June. The ever-lurking offense saw a window and made Portugal pay.
Despite opening the match with conviction, Spain quickly found themselves retreating against an offensive attack led by Diogo Jota and Bruno Fernandes.
It seemed to slip out of their hands as the host country maintained control through much of the game and held the score even. With the help of some timely substitutions and some gritty play on the part of Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simón, Spain managed to hang around until Morata’s heroics.
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And just like that, a switch flipped.
In a blink-and-you-might-miss-it moment, Spanish defender Dani Carvajal placed a lofted cross towards the back post for teammate Nico Williams, one of those substitutes who crucially injected energy into the match. Williams delivered a headed cross across the six-yard box to Morata, who was in perfect position to put the ball home.
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Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo had two breakaways in the final minute and seemed determined to single-handedly lift his country to the finals. However, the Spanish backline and Simón stood tall in the closing minutes to hold out for a 1-0 win.
It was a crushing defeat for the Portuguese who looked poise to return to the finals after winning the inaugural 2019 tournament.
With the victory, Spain joins Croatia, the Netherlands and Italy in the Nations League finals set for June. The event will be held in one of the four competing countries.