Having lost the previous edition of the UNL final in 2019 to France, Spain were looking to go one better this time around, aiming to deny Croatia’s golden generation possibly their last chance at claiming major silverware.
The Iberian side looked to have their opponents somewhat rattled early on, pressing high and almost forcing an opener when Gavi stole the ball before dragging his effort wide.
Yet, at the midway stage of the first half, Croatia’s Andrej Kramaric was perhaps the man who had come closest to finding the net, racing in behind the Spain backline only to be denied a shot at goal by a sliding challenge.
No first-half final goals had been scored in the UNL’s short history, and that trend continued here during an evenly-contested first period.
An intriguing battle between two former wingers now plying their trade at full-back was developing as Ivan Perisic came up against Jesus Navas, with Zlatko Dalic’s side increasingly funnelling their attacks down this flank.
A dangerous cross from Perisic caused havoc at one end before Marco Asensio’s looping header threatened at the other, with the contest remaining finely balanced as the clock ticked past the hour mark.
Alterations from both managers sought to shake things up, but after substitute Ansu Fati’s darting run drew Dominik Livakovic off his line, Fabian Ruiz was unable to direct his lobbed effort goalwards.
With the 90th minute fast approaching, Fati must have thought he’d slid in the winner from close range, yet Perisic’s immaculate goal-line positioning denied Spain from their first shot on target.
A total of 19 goals had been scored across the three previous matches between these two, but a goalless regulation period forced this contest into extra time.
Although clear-cut chances remained scarce, Mateo Kovacic’s marauding midfield run nearly opened Spain up, however, a last-ditch intervention from Nacho prevented Lovro Majer from finishing the move with an elusive goal.
Despite a late Spanish flurry, a penalty shootout was ultimately required with Croatian fans knowing their side had emerged victorious in four of four since 2018.
After 12 spot-kicks and two Unai Simon stops, Dani Carvajal buried the decisive penalty with a nerveless Panenka to condemn Croatia to a second major final defeat in the last five years.
At 34 years of age, Barcelona icon Jordi Alba lifts his first international trophy as captain of La Furia Roja while manager Luis de la Fuente oversees UNL glory in just his fourth game in charge.