Luis Enrique lauded Spain "pillar" Sergio Busquets after his exploits in the country's trophy-less Nations League Finals campaign.

Spain fell short in Sunday's Nations League final, beaten 2-1 by reigning world champions France at San Siro in Milan.

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe cancelled out Mikel Oyarzabal's 64th-minute opener and while Spain were left emptyhanded, veteran captain Busquets produced another impressive display in the middle of the nation's rebuilding project.

Busquets provided his 10th assist for Spain and first since November 2019 having teed up Oyarzabal, while the 33-year-old captain led the team in tackles (four) and total duels (17) after finishing with a 92.2 per cent passing accuracy – only bettered by Eric Garcia for La Roja.

"Busquets has been named the best player of the tournament. That says a lot about his level. He's vital for us. He's the captain, but not only that," Luis Enrique said during his post-match news conference.

"He's also somebody who gives some values off the pitch and on the pitch. He gives you calmness, quietness. He's our pillar on which our defensive and attacking game are based.

"How much we've won, I don't know, but I know we were able to win against the European champions and play almost evenly with the world champions, so for the players and the team, that is all good.

"And of course, every time it will be more difficult for me to make the next selection, and that is good for me and good for us. The important thing is the team maintains its personality and will to win."

Spain ended the decider with 63.9 per cent possession and 624 passes, compared to France's 354 total passes.

Luis Enrique's Spain were left to rue a missed opportunity, having lost to eventual champions Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals.

"Nothing was missing. It was a shame that once we scored that opening goal, that France went up the other end. It was a shame to concede when we just scored, because that's when France were at their weakest. That's the only regret we can have," the former Barcelona boss added.

"What are we missing? We're not missing anything at all. We still need to keep that same confidence, and we need to try press ahead with what we've been doing." 

"As usual, no matter who we're playing against, Spain will always play its game," Luis Enrique said. "Sometimes we play a bit better than other times, but that's normal. But I think all fans would agree that Spain always plays the same way. No matter where, no matter against whom. So I am satisfied with what I have seen this tournament."

France head coach Didier Deschamps hailed "crucial" Karim Benzema after the star forward guided Les Bleus to Nations League glory.

Benzema scored a stunning equaliser as world champions France came from behind to beat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's final in Milan.

After Mikel Oyarzabal broke the deadlock, Benzema struck moments later in sublime fashion to restore parity before Kylian Mbappe settled the contest 10 minutes from the end.

Benzema ended the Nations League Finals as the joint leading scorer alongside Mbappe and Spain's Ferran Torres to cap a particularly pleasing campaign for the Real Madrid talisman, who had spent more than five years in international exile before returning ahead of Euro 2020.

"Karim is a crucial player, and he has proven over the course of these two matches that he has very obvious talent," Deschamps told reporters.

"It's there for all to see, he is really kicked on from what he has been showing at club level with Real Madrid, he's got that desperate will to win. He's here exactly to do that, and he's communicated a great deal with his teammates, I am very happy for everyone, but especially for him.

"He needed that, he's not going to play another four or five international competitions, at least I don't think so. It's not the most important trophy, but he did everything, and he was very significant for us when it came to coming here and winning the Nations League. 

"It's important of course to have come from behind and equalised. I am personally very happy for Karim, that's why he is here. He scores a bucket-load of goals with his club and he does likewise for France, and besides the goals that he scores... he has that wonderful will to win, and you can see that come out.

"I am delighted as for the future of course, it is very important, besides the talent that he or other players might possess, there also this mental strength he's got this competitive edge which is absolutely crucial at the highest level."

Deschamps' France are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, thanks to exploits of Benzema and Mbappe at San Siro.

Mbappe finished the Nations League Finals with four goal involvements – more than any other player.

Deschamps, whose France were shocked by Switzerland in the last 16 at Euro 2020, added: "There are no regrets in football, that is part of the past, some people might agree or disagree, but there was a 10-minute window when we had a bit of a black-out [against Switzerland].

"And the scenario went against us here, we went behind by two goals [in the semi-final against Belgium], that can happen, but it was all about what we had done well before. But it was of course a bit of a sudden stop, and we did of course have ambitions to go further. But it's not a case that you have to throw everything out of the window, throw the baby out with the bathwater, quite the opposite.

"Even if it is not the same personnel. We have some young players who have very few caps, like Theo Hernandez, or Aurelien Tchouameni this evening. We threw them in there. And the team's level didn't suffer, there will be a lot of effervescence in this side, there will be competition for places and for those that are in form as you know the best possible remedy is to win trophies and there was something up for grabs tonight and I am very happy for the entire squad that was here during the two games that we won here." 

Karim Benzema hailed France's comeback ability as a sign of a "great team" after Les Bleus fought back to defeat Spain 2-1 and claim the 2021 Nations League.

The Real Madrid forward equalised after Mikel Oyarzabal opened the scoring, the seventh time in 2021 France have fallen behind first – three more times than any other calendar year.

Kylian Mbappe then scored the winner after 80 minutes, his fourth goal involvement at the Finals – more than any other player – to secure Les Bleus' second trophy in three attempts after winning the 2018 World Cup and faltering at Euro 2020.

Didier Deschamps' side are now unbeaten in 25 competitive matches, only doing better once in their history between 1994 and 1999, and Benzema pinpointed the team's comeback ability as a hallmark of how good they are.

"It's a dream evening on a collective and personal level," Benzema told M6 post-match.

"I really wanted to win a trophy with the France team, today it's done. It was a difficult match against a very good team. We have shown the strength of character.

"This team is very strong, it never gives up and we have proven it again today. It is the sign of great teams: [they] do not panic and wait for the right moment.

"We will first take advantage of this trophy and go for the World Cup."

Paul Pogba, who dominated the final with team-high figures in both touches (77) and passes (42), echoed Benzema's sentiments while bemoaning France's tendency to start slowly in games.

"It's true that we started badly," Pogba said to M6 after the game. "[It was] another first period where we were dominated by Spain [and] we had to react after a goal.

"We have to do better, we know that. But the result is victory at the end. If that's how we have to win, why not like that?

"It's always good to go for trophies. We always [have a] thirst for trophies, we are never satisfied."

Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe inspired France to come from behind once again and defeat Spain 2-1 in Sunday's 2021 Nations League final.

The reigning world champions, who overturned a two-goal deficit against Belgium in Thursday's semi-final, fell behind to Mikel Oyarzabal's second-half strike moments after Theo Hernandez had hit the woodwork.

However, Luis Enrique's side – who ended Italy's record 37-game unbeaten run in Wednesday's semi-final – were pegged back two minutes later as Benzema curled in magnificently.

Mbappe then doubled the blow as he netted after 80 minutes for France to secure their second trophy in three attempts following their win at the 2018 World Cup and disappointment at Euro 2020.

Marcos Alonso's wayward speculative long-range free-kick represented the only notable first-half chance as Spain struggled throughout the first 45 minutes to make their initial 66.7 per cent possession pay.

Raphael Varane was then forced off before the interval with what seemed to be an innocuous injury and matters worsened for Didier Deschamps' side after the break.

Mbappe's smart offload almost set up an opening goal but Hernandez struck the crossbar before Oyarzabal, who was released by Sergio Busquets, drilled into the bottom-right corner after 64 minutes.

However, Benzema and Mbappe combined to immediately level, with the former drifting inwards to bend a right-footed effort into the top-right corner before the latter put France into the lead.

The PSG forward appeared offside as he rounded Unai Simon following Hernandez's throughball but a VAR check stuck with the original decision as Mbappe recorded his fourth goal involvement of the Finals – more than any other player.

Oyarzabal then provided a late scare as he connected sweetly with a left-footed volley but was denied by Hugo Lloris before the France goalkeeper parried away from Yeremi Pino's first-time attempt to secure victory in the second edition of the competition.

After the 2018 World Cup final, when highlights of France's thrilling 4-2 win were played back at Luzhniki Stadium, one man in particular was enraptured.

Antoine Griezmann stood on the pitch, ignoring the celebrations that surrounded him, his gaze fixed upwards at the big screen beneath the storm-laden sky.

His hands to his mouth, eyes watering, smile beaming, the face of the man bore an expression of boyish disbelief: I was just man of the match in the World Cup final. And we won.

It's unlikely anything in Griezmann's career will ever top that victory over Croatia in the Russian capital. Win or lose, Sunday's Nations League final against Spain almost certainly won't. Still, it will be another special occasion for the Atletico Madrid forward, who is set to win his 100th cap against the national team of his adoptive country.

It also offers a chance to reflect on Griezmann's international career, which began only seven years ago. In the Didier Deschamps era, there has been no more important player.

 

Didier's favourite

Reaching a century of international games is commendable for any player – only eight men have ever achieved it for France before. What makes Griezmann unique is that all of his caps have come under the same coach.

It was Deschamps who handed Griezmann his debut on March 5, 2014 against the Netherlands, starting the forward wide on the left of a front three. Griezmann has since been used across the forward line in changing systems, but his presence in Deschamps' set-up has been constant: he has only missed four France games since his first appearance and has played in 56 matches in a row for Les Bleus, the longest such streak in their history.

 

Under Deschamps, only Olivier Giroud (101) has played more often than Griezmann, while only goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris has started more games (96 compared with Griezmann's 84) or played more minutes (8,700 to Griezmann's 7,300).

When he scored his second in the 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland in September, Griezmann moved level with Michel Platini on 41 international goals. Only Giroud (46) and Thierry Henry (51) have managed more in the national team's history. Given his rate of just over five international goals per year, the outright record looks well within Griezmann's reach, even if he insists it is not an "obsession" to get it.

Another record beckons in 2022: should France reach the semi-finals in Qatar, Griezmann could surpass Henry and Fabien Barthez (both on 17) for the most appearances for Les Bleus at World Cup finals.

 

Griezi does it on the biggest stage

In the 2018 World Cup final, Griezmann won and took the free-kick from which Mario Mandzukic scored the opening own goal, and he converted the penalty that restored France's lead when Croatia were beginning to take control.

It was a decisive display in the biggest match of the Deschamps era, but the fact Griezmann stepped up for his country when it mattered should not have come as a shock.

In the knockouts in Russia, Griezmann scored in the 4-3 win over Argentina, got a goal and an assist in the quarter-final with Uruguay and crossed for Samuel Umtiti's headed winner against Belgium in the last four. He won the bronze ball as the third-best player at the tournament and the silver boot for finishing as second in the goal standings, two behind England's Harry Kane on six.

 

Two years earlier, he scored twice against the Republic of Ireland, got a goal and two assists against Iceland and two more strikes against Germany in the knockouts of Euro 2016 before France fell at the final hurdle on home soil against Portugal. In both 2016 and 2018, he came third in the Ballon d'Or standings.

Griezmann won the golden boot and was named player of the tournament at Euro 2016. Indeed, in the history of the European Championship finals, only Cristiano Ronaldo (20) and Michel Platini (10) have been directly involved in more goals than the 30-year-old (nine).

 

Antoine-derful

Griezmann scored 22 goals in 74 LaLiga games for Barcelona as he struggled to find his place in the system alongside Lionel Messi under three different coaches. It was a fairly poor return for €120million. Yet for France, regardless of tactics and personnel, he has delivered consistently when it matters.

Since his debut, Griezmann has nine goals and four assists in 16 World Cup qualifying games. No player has managed more, or made more appearances. He also leads the way for chances created (33, 14 more than anyone else), and shots (46, seven more than nearest rival Paul Pogba).

In Euros qualifying, only Giroud matches Griezmann for games (10) and beats him for goals (six), while the Atleti man is again top for assists (seven). In fact, he has created 42 goalscoring chances in those games, which is 28 more than anyone else for France during his international career.

At World Cup finals, no France player has played more matches (12), scored more goals (four) or provided more assists (two) than Griezmann in the Deschamps era. His 17 chances created are, again, the most in that time.

And, at the European Championships... well, you can guess where we're going here. His seven goals and two assists in 11 games is a better return than any other France player since his debut. If you add in four goals and an assist in 11 Nations League matches – again, nobody for France has played as many – then Griezmann stands on 43 direct goal involvements in competitive internationals, which is 15 more than any other player since he made his bow on the senior stage.

 

In Spain, Griezmann went from underrated Real Sociedad talent to Atletico Madrid superstar to Barcelona let-down. For France, he has been Monsieur Dependable for more than seven years.

If he marks his 100th cap with a decisive turn in a Nations League final victory, nobody – among the French, at least – would be surprised.

Luis Enrique has no doubts about the quality of his Spain team but accepts their Nations League final opponents France have the best collection of individuals in international football.

Spain defeated European champions Italy in their semi-final on Wednesday, ending the Azzurri's world-record 37 match unbeaten run in the process.

World champions France await in the finale, with Didier Deschamps' men having come from 2-0 down to beat Belgium 3-2, which was the first time they had reversed a two-goal deficit since May 2012.

Spain's starting XI last time out was the youngest (average age of 26.8 years) of the four teams involved in the Nations League semis, and prior to their win over Italy, Luis Enrique had the impression they were most people's outside bets for the trophy.

But he relished causing something of an upset and believes they are capable of doing so again.

He told reporters: "I am convinced that we are going to have a great game and that we are going to put France in difficulty.

"I don't know if it will be enough to win us, but for us it is a very great encouragement.

"In the semi-finals we were the underdogs of the four teams and we turned that feeling around. Now we will try to do the same against the best team in the world – at an individual level, without a doubt.

"We are going to defend as we always do, by taking risks and playing face-to-face, trying to make sure that the only ball on the field is Spain's."

La Roja have certainly done a reasonable job in that respect in previous Nations League games, given they have had the most shots (126), shots on target (46), the best passing success (90.8 per cent) and best average possession (67.7 per cent) in this edition of the competition.

Luis Enrique still thinks they can get better, though.

"We still have the trump card of being a team," he continued. "We can still be a better team, we can still improve our performance.

"This is a wonderful sport that rewards those who play the best, we will try to be better than them collectively and make it happen."

But that is not to say Luis Enrique is underestimating the weapons France possess, with their front three of Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann – who is one match away from becoming only the ninth Les Bleus centurion – capable of doing damage.

"The power and quality of their front three is indisputable," Luis Enrique added. "They are very good and capable of deciding any match based on their individual quality.

"But we are not going to change one iota of what has brought us here, our ambition, our conviction and our quality."

Antoine Griezmann is not obsessed with breaking Thierry Henry's goalscoring record for France as he stands on the brink of reaching 100 international caps.

Griezmann will have the chance to secure silverware if he makes his landmark outing on Sunday in the Nations League final, Les Bleus having set up a clash with Spain thanks to a sensational comeback victory over Belgium.

Didier Deschamps' side trailed 2-0 at the interval but managed to turn the game around in the second half. Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe scored to draw the sides level before Theo Hernandez proved to be the unlikely hero, the full-back thundering in a 90th-minute winner.

Griezmann was not able to add to his tally of 41 goals for the national team, meaning he still trails Henry's career tally by 10.

"It is close, but it is not a goal that obsesses me," the Atletico Madrid forward told the media on Friday.

"I go games without shooting on goal, which shows how much it is not an obsession. Ten goals is not a lot, but also a lot at the same time. We're going to take it easy."

The 30-year-old helped France win the 2018 World Cup after suffering European Championship heartbreak on home soil two years earlier.

While now an experienced member of the squad, his attitude has not changed throughout his career for his country.

On nearing a century of appearances, Griezmann said: "I always like being in the France team, I'm always proud to wear these colours.

"I always love football, I'm with this locker room, the staff too. I have a little more experience and am a world champion, but otherwise I'm always the same, trying to give the best of myself offensively or defensively, compared to what the team needs."

He added: "I am very proud and very happy. I hope it will end well with a cup and a party after the game."

Griezmann is also determined to help France secure Nations League glory, in part so he can avoid having to deal with some of his Atleti team-mates, good friend Koke in particular, when he returns to the Spanish capital.

"If we lose, I'm going to have Koke, who rooms with me, making little jokes. It's the same for some Spanish friends I have in Madrid," the former Barcelona player revealed.

"Especially at the beginning, it's going to be weird. With Koke, we are together all the time, in the locker room or at home. But after five minutes you forget everything and the game begins.

"They have a very good team, they play very well. On the ball, they press high.

"With Luis Enrique, whom I adore and I admire as a coach, they have had good matches. They made the semi-finals at the European Championship, then they are in the final here."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini criticised fans in Milan for choosing to jeer goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma in 2-1 Nations League semi-final loss to Spain, saying the national team comes above all else.

Donnarumma left Serie A outfit Milan for Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the off-season, prompting some fans to jeer him every time he touched the ball upon his return to San Siro for the first time since the move.

The 21-year-old star was hardly impacted by the frequent jeers on Wednesday and whistled although he fumbled a routine take from Marcos Alonso's shot on to the post in the first half.

"For sure [Donnarumma] wasn't happy about the whistles during the first half but what could we do?," Mancini said during his post-game news conference.

"We are all adults and we have to accept also this situation and in the end I think Gigio despite that played a good game. It certainly won't have pleased him, just as it did not please us. Gigio did well."

Mancini added: "Donnarumma played for Italy and it was not a club game. This situation could have been put aside for one night and [they could have] whistled [at him] in a possible PSG vs Milan [match]. Italy are Italy and come above all else."

The defeat ended the European champions' record 37-game unbeaten run, as well as their bid to add the Nations League title to their Euro 2020 crown.

Italy's undefeated streak dated back to September 2018, when they went down 1-0 to Portugal in a Nations League group game in Lisbon.

"It would have been better not to suffer this defeat but we knew that sooner or later eventually we would have to lose a game," Mancini said. "It is better for it to come tonight than in the final of the Euros or the World Cup.

"I believe though that this game makes us even stronger despite the defeat and allows us to understand that we are truly a great team."

Italy's hopes of victory were not helped by captain Leonardo Bonucci's second yellow card in the first half, with Ferran Torres' two goals coming either side of his 42nd-minute sending off.

Bonucci was initially booked on the half hour for dissent before a second yellow card for a raised elbow in an aerial challenge with Sergio Busquets.

"About Leo, he was a bit naive tonight and in this type of game you cannot make these mistakes," Mancini said.

"It's true that the red card had an impact on the rest of match. Until that moment Spain had more ball possession which is what they are used to. We were in a bit of difficulty, but we could have ended the first half at 1-1.

"We should not have conceded the second goal at the end of the first half. We should have paid more attention for their second goal. It's already difficult to face Spain with 11 players but when you are one man down it becomes much more complicated."

Spain head coach Luis Enrique hailed Gavi's performance after his record-breaking debut in Spain's 2-1 Nations League semi-final victory over Italy on Wednesday.

Gavi became Spain's youngest ever player, aged 17 years and 62 days, in the clash at San Siro.

The Barcelona midfielder completed 94.3 per cent of his passes in the opposition's half – a total only bettered by one other Spanish starter – while he contested a game-high 19 duels and made more tackles (four) than any team-mate.

He looked at home on the big stage, and Luis Enrique compared his display to the kind he might serve up in his garden at home.

"He plays like he does at school or in the garden of his house, and it is a pleasure to have a player of this quality and personality," he told reporters.

Spain's victory ended Italy's world-record 37-match unbeaten run and booked a spot in Sunday's Nations League final where they will play France or Belgium, who face off in Thursday's other semi-final.

The triumph was sealed by two goals from Manchester City forward Ferran Torres either side of Leonardo Bonucci's dismissal for the Azzurri before half-time.

 

Lorenzo Pellegrini pulled one back for Roberto Mancini's side late on, but La Roja held firm to record a memorable win against the side who beat them in the Euro 2020 semi-final in July.

"We have once again created chances, and we have overcome them," Luis Enrique added.

"It was a very good game with two sides showing their best. It is very difficult with only one-and-a-half training sessions to transmit what you want, but the players have been very involved, as always.

"The best thing since I've been with the national team is that we've managed to play our game, regardless of the rival and the tournament. I am privileged, because I have a list of 40 or 50 extraordinary players."

Italy coach Roberto Mancini was pleased with his side's display against Spain on Wednesday despite a 2-1 defeat ending their world-record 37-game unbeaten run.

La Roja booked their place in Sunday's Nations League final thanks to two Ferran Torres strikes before half-time.

The Azzurri's cause was not helped by Leonardo Bonucci receiving a second yellow card in between the Manchester City forward's double.

Lorenzo Pellegrini halved the deficit seven minutes from full-time, but Luis Enrique's men held firm to set up a clash with either France or Belgium in Sunday's decider.

While disappointed that his side's superb unbeaten run was over, Mancini was not too hard on his players.  

"Games are like this, sometimes incidents change them. The first half could easily have ended 1-1," Mancini told RAI Sport.

"Clearly, Spain keep the ball well, but it's disappointing to lose like this, down to 10. We made a mistake that we should not be making at this level.

"To be honest, I didn't see the second card, but that's not the point. Leo should not have got himself booked in either situation.

"Playing like this, scoring a goal and not conceding more when down to 10 men was a good performance.

"We needed some fresh legs and that helped when down to 10 men. We could've used some younger players, but I think that despite the defeat, this performance gave us strength."

 

The result was only the second time Italy have conceded more than one goal in a single match under Mancini's guidance, the previous such occasion a 3-1 defeat to France in June 2018.

Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini echoed Mancini's sentiments and believes the defeat will make them stronger.

"It's a pity the defeat came in Milan, but there is pride for this extraordinary run of results," the Juventus defender said.

"It's a necessary stage in the growth process for a team that can still do far better. We knew it was a difficult match, we called for patience and clear minds, and sometimes you have to accept the opposition is a very strong team that causes you problems.

"It's a pity, we wanted to continue this unbeaten run, but the fact is this will help our growth process. We almost got it back on level terms when down to 10 men and 2-0 down, so that shows what we’re capable of."

Italy's world-record 37-game unbeaten run came to an end on Wednesday as Spain booked their place in the 2021 Nations League final with a 2-1 win at San Siro. 

Roberto Mancini's side overcame Spain in the last four of Euro 2020 in July, but they were blown away by a Roja side who will play the winners of Thursday's other semi-final between France and Belgium in the decider on Sunday. 

Ferran Torres was their star man, the Manchester City forward delivering two superb finishes either side of Leonardo Bonucci's dismissal for the Azzurri before half-time. 

Lorenzo Pellegrini set up a dramatic finale with a breakaway goal in the 83rd minute, yet Luis Enrique's side held firm in the closing stages to progress to the final. 

Spain started brightly and went ahead after 17 minutes when Torres steered a 10-yard volley past Gianluigi Donnarumma after being picked out by Mikel Oyarzabal's sumptuous cross.

Donnarumma almost gifted Spain a second less than a minute later as he fumbled Marcos Alonso's strike onto the post, while Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne went close to restoring parity at the other end.

Italy's hopes were dealt a blow three minutes before the interval when Bonucci received a second yellow card for catching Sergio Busquets with an elbow in an aerial challenge.

Spain capitalised on their numerical advantage in first-half stoppage time, Torres again getting on the end of an Oyarzabal cross to head into Donnarumma's far corner.

Oyarzabal should have made it three shortly after the hour mark, but his header from Yeremy's cross flew agonisingly wide of Donnarumma's right-hand post. 

The excellent Federico Chiesa teed Pellegrini up for a tap-in after a lightning quick break in the final 10 minutes, but Italy were unable to find the leveller that would have preserved their remarkable undefeated streak at least into extra time. 

Spanish legend Pau Gasol has announced his retirement from basketball at the age of 41.

The former Los Angeles Laker, who returned for a second spell with his first club Barcelona eight months ago, confirmed his decision to call time on his illustrious career a press conference on Tuesday.

Gasol enjoyed an extraordinarily successful NBA career spanning 18 years, playing for the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks.

He won two NBA titles and was a six-time NBA All-Star after being named the 2001-02 NBA Rookie of the Year.

"It is a very difficult decision as you can imagine, but it's a decision that I have contemplated well," Gasol said. "It's nice to be able to retire as an active player and not on crutches, to retire having won another title with Barcelona and having played in a fifth Olympics with the national team.

"I remember when I was on the youth team coaches used to say to that the important thing was not to reach the top, but to stay there. I didn't try to stay there, I tried to improve with every game and become the best I could."

Gasol was FIBA Basketball World Cup champion in 2006, won three FIBA EuroBasket titles - earning the MVP award in 2009 and 2015 - and three Olympic medals (two silver and a bronze).

He is Eurobasket's all-time leading scorer with 1183 points in 58 appearances, averaging 19.9 points in seven tournaments.

"The example that Pau has given us all, that leadership even this last year, with humility, with an ability to try things that he had never even done, things that he did not even need because of his great talent," said Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo. "Another stage of respect and the consideration that we can only have towards Pau."

Gasol and his younger brother Marc, 36, announced their international retirement after playing in the Tokyo Olympics.

Pau Gasol said: "I was lucky to be a member of great teams with great team-mates, and some of them are here today.

"We started playing in the backyard of our grandparents' house and having [Marc] as my brother and playing the same sport, trying to be the big brother also in basketball, was always a great motivation for me.

"I'd like to be remembered as a player who gave it his everything, who tried to do the best he could and, at end of the day, being able to play until the age of 41 is not bad at all."

Roberto Mancini has insisted Italy "have to improve" ahead of their Nations League semi-final with Spain, despite the Azzurri winning Euro 2020 in July.

Italy are also unbeaten in their last 37 games - a world record - with 30 wins and seven draws across all competitions and friendlies since October 2018.

Mancini's men bested Spain in a penalty shoot-out in the last four of the European Championships after a 1-1 draw in regular time in a fixture that Spain dominated, enjoying 71 per cent possession.

The former Manchester City and Inter head coach believes Spain remain the superior side in terms of keeping the ball and feels his team can still get better in that department.

"We suffered in that [Euro 2020 semi-final against Spain]," Mancini said. "Spain put us in trouble in possession, they have been doing it for 20 years and on this, they are ahead of us.

"We have to improve this game situation, be faster. We have to improve, we also have young players who have to play important competitions. We have 14 important months and we have to play better and better, offensive and balanced.

"[The Nations League] is an important competition. It is clear that it comes after a European Championship and preparing in such a short time is not easy but they are two matches among the four best in Europe and we want to improve, that's for sure."

Mancini also responded to Luis Enrique's claim that the Azzurri's unbeaten streak would end eventually, agreeing with his counterpart.

"We always want to win, then we know it will depend on us," Mancini continued. "[Enrique's] right, sooner or later [we will lose]. We would like to go on like this until December 2022, but we know it won't be that simple."

If Italy best Spain again on October 6, they will face one of Belgium or France in the Nations League final at San Siro on October 10.

After 15 years without success on the international stage, Italy could win a second title in three months this week as the 2021 Nations League concludes.

That may come as a surprise to some – after all, given how recent Euro 2020 was and the fact the Nations League Finals are taking place amid a busy World Cup qualification period, it wouldn't be unsurprising if most people had completely forgotten about UEFA's secondary competition.

But here we are, it's Finals week and hosts Italy have themselves a wonderful opportunity to clinch another trophy, with Portugal winning the inaugural competition – also in front of home crowds – two years ago.

France and Belgium will contest the second semi-final, with Italy going up against Spain first on Wednesday in a repeat of their Euro 2020 last-four clash, which Roberto Mancini's men won on penalties.

Italy head into the tournament amid a world-record 37-match unbeaten run, last month's draw with Switzerland and the subsequent 5-0 win over Lithuania taking them clear of Brazil and La Roja.

Of course, the Spain team that had previously equalled Brazil's world record back in 2009 were in the throes of their most successful period ever, and Italy will hope that's a sign of things to come for them.

 

Spain's semi-final hurdle

That legendary Spain side saw their 35-match unbeaten streak – a run that included Euro 2008 success – ended in 2009 by the United States.

While the Confederations Cup was never really seen as a hugely important title, hence FIFA pulling the plug on it in 2019, the USA's 2-0 win in the semi-finals 12 years ago was a fairly big deal.

Jozy Altidore's opener was the first goal Spain had conceded in 451 minutes of play and only their third concession in 17 matches, and it was added to by Clint Dempsey.

On the 10th anniversary, Spanish publication AS referred to it as "one of the biggest upsets in football history". A little hyperbolic? Sure, but it certainly was a shock.

For starters, it remains Spain's sole defeat in five meetings with the USA, while it's still their only loss to a CONCACAF nation in 23 matches.

But perhaps the key fact from Spain's perspective was coach Vicente del Bosque's assertion of it only being a "little step backward" stood the test of time – a little over a year later, Spain were World champions for the first time and then they followed that up with Euro 2012 success.

 

That made them the first team since the foundation of the World Cup in 1930 to win three successive major international titles.

It was an iconic side that was routinely filled with players who'll always be remembered as all-time greats for La Roja.

The foundation of their ascension to greatness lay in that unbeaten run, and Italy will a similar status awaits them, regardless of how long they stay undefeated for.

Star quality

Many took for granted just how many remarkable players that Spain squad contained – it's unlikely they'll ever produce the same collective greatness in such a small period.

Xavi was the metronome and, as such, a key component. He played in all but two of the 35 matches in that unbeaten run, with Sergio Ramos (31), David Villa and Iker Casillas (both 29) next on the list.

But when it came to goalscoring, one man above all was the crucial cog: Villa.

A lethal striker for Valencia, Barcelona and – to a slightly lesser extent – Atletico Madrid at the peak of his powers, Villa scored 23 goals during La Roja's famous run, almost three times as many as anyone else. Fernando Torres was next with eight.

 

Luis Enrique's current team could do with a player of Villa's skillset, given the dearth of quality available to him in that position. After all, his squad for this week has no recognised centre-forward in it, with Ferran Torres arguably the closest to fitting the bill.

Cesc Fabregas was the man supplying the best service for Spain's goals in that period, with his 12 assists the most impressive return, while Xavi and Andres Iniesta had seven apiece.

Spain's incredible run compromised of 32 wins and just three draws, while they scored 73 times and conceded only 11.

A team, no superstars

Of course, Italy's world-record effort has already proven successful, with the 37-match run including their Euro 2020 triumph.

And in certain ways, it has actually been more fruitful than Spain's, with the Azzurri scoring 93 goals and letting in just 12, though nine of those matches were drawn.

While Spain spent 174 minutes trailing, Italy have had even less time behind in matches, just 109 minutes, and 65 of those were in one match – the Euro 2020 final against England.

Italy have been much less reliant on a single goalscoring outlet as well, which is perhaps explained by the theory they are less a collection of superstars but instead a tremendous team unit.

Ciro Immobile is their top scorer over the past 37 matches, his haul of eight insignificant compared to Villa's 23, whereas Lorenzo Insigne has been their most reliable source of creativity with seven assists.

But 10 players have scored at least four times for Italy, compared to only five in that Spain team.

Roberto Mancini's comfort with rotating and being able to adapt to different groups of players has really shone through.

 

While the Spain side of Luis Aragones and then Del Bosque had 11 players feature 24 or more times, only five Italians have played that often in Mancini's run, while the most he has used any single starting XI is twice – Spain's most-used line-up was put out four times.

But the important thing most people remember when looking back at that Spain squad is not any specific unbeaten run in itself, but the wider context and history that streak was a part of.

Similarly with Italy, the vast majority of people in 10 or 15 years arguably won't give much thought to their world-record unbeaten run because winning Euro 2020 is a bigger deal.

But Mancini and Italy will surely be hoping that was just the start of a period of domination, one that Spain's unbeaten streak seemingly foretold.

 

While Nations League success isn't going to elevate them to iconic status, it does provide another opportunity to continue building on a winning mentality ahead of next year's World Cup, and the fact they are unbeaten in 61 competitive matches on home soil since 1999 is a good omen.

Succeed in Qatar and then we can start to talk about Italy's legacy.

Roberto Mancini admitted trying to win the Nations League is a daunting task despite succeeding at Euro 2020 with Italy.

Italy, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, underwent a transformative period under Mancini, culminating in them winning Euro 2020 – their first European Championship since 1968.

The Azzurri, led by experienced campaigners such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, are on a 37-game unbeaten run as they prepare for their Nations League semi-final with Spain on Wednesday.

Indeed, Mancini's side required penalties to edge past Spain in the semi-finals at Euro 2020 and the 56-year-old is expecting another tough task against Luis Enrique's men at San Siro.

"Spain were the team we struggled against most during Euro 2020. They are a good team with good players," Mancini told UEFA's official website.

"It will be a good match. [Passing the ball on the ground is] something they are the best at. We didn’t have the time to master it at their level. It will be different this time.

"It would be amazing to win [the Nations League straight] after the European Championship and it would be amazing to qualify for the World Cup early, but it won't be that easy."

 

Italy were at a low ebb when Mancini was appointed and he immediately recalled familiar faces, settling on a more attacking mindset as he attempted to instil pride back in the team.

His side subsequently achieved glory – their first triumph since the 2006 World Cup – and the former Manchester City manager expressed his delight at delivering success for Italian football.

"It was great because we made many people happy, both young and old," Mancini continued. 

"So it was something for everybody. Something that made a lot of people happy, maybe also because of these times we have been living through. The fans have been enthusiastic, and we play to entertain people. It was a wonderful time.

"The best things about the Euro's? Probably the relationship we created within the team. It was a group that worked together for 50 days and that's not easy. 

"They were hard, tiring [days], but there weren't any issues. It was the chemistry and the love, that isn't something easy to obtain.

"[The perception of the Italy team] has changed, but we can't forget that Italy is a country that has won four World Cups. [We] are the European champions and have a significant history."

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