Spain’s 11-year trophy drought is over. Croatia and their veteran captain Luka Modric are still waiting for their first international title.

Goalkeeper Unai Simon saved two shots as Spain beat Croatia in a penalty shootout after their tense Nations League final ended 0-0 on Sunday.

The Bilbao goalkeeper saved a Lovro Majer penalty with his feet when the shootout was level at 3-3 and then dove to its full length to deflect a Bruno Petković penalty onto the post.

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Spanish players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Nations League final between Croatia and Spain at the De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Sunday, June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Dani Carvajal converted his penalty —with a ‘Panenka’ chip— to seal the victory.

Spain coach Luis De La Fuente said Carvajal had taken penalties well in practice before the final.

«He has a fantastic personality and that’s how he decided to take it,» he said. «We have complete confidence in his ability to take penalties.»

Spain’s other previous titles came at the 2010 World Cup and the European Championships in 1964, 2008 and 2012.

Midfielder Rodri, who punched the air after scoring his penalty, has four titles this season after also winning a historic treble with his club, Manchester City. He was named Nations League Player of the Tournament to cap off his memorable year.

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Unai Simón stops the penalty shot

Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon saves a penalty kick by Croatian Bruno Petkovic during a penalty shootout at the end of the Nations League final soccer match between Croatia and Spain at the De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, May 18. June 2023. Spain won 5-4 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 0-0. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Spain failed to get a shot on target until the 84th minute of the game and when substitute Ansu Fati finally seemed to break the tie, Ivan Perišić was on the goal line to block his shot. It was Spain’s only goal attempt, compared to Croatia’s five.

In the first period of extra time, Majer broke through and fell in the penalty area to a challenge from Nacho, but German referee Felix Zwayer ruled that the Spanish defender had touched the ball and dismissed Croatia’s penalty calls.

«I think it makes the win even more epic to do it this way,» De La Fuente said.

The Croatian fans, many wearing jerseys with Modric’s name and the number 10 on the back, far outnumbered their Spanish counterparts at Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium.

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Spain players celebrate with trophy

Spain’s players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Nations League final soccer match between Croatia and Spain at De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, June 18, 2023. Spain won 5-4 in a penalty shootout after the match ended tied 0–0. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

But they were forced to leave disappointed as their nation and the 37-year-old Modric continued their wait for a first international title.

Croatia finished second in the World Cup in 2018 and third in Qatar last year. Modric, meanwhile, has won the Champions League five times with Real Madrid and was named FIFA’s world player of the year in 2018, breaking Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s decade-long dominance of the title. But he hasn’t been able to crown his brilliant career with international honors.

Whether he will get another shot at next year’s European Championships remains to be seen.

«I would love for Luka to stay,» Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said. «He is a very important player for us.»

De La Fuente agreed.

«I hope it continues because we never want the great players to leave the game,» he said.

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Dominik Livakovic lies on the ground

Croatia’s goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic lies on the ground after the penalty shootout during the Nations League final soccer match between Croatia and Spain at De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Spain was one step better than the last Nations League final in 2021, when they lost to France. Not bad for a team with a manager, Luis De La Fuente, who only took over after the World Cup in Qatar and came under fire when his team lost 2-0 to Scotland in World Cup qualifiers. of Europe.

The Spanish players went to a small section of their fans in a corner of the stadium to celebrate their victory.

Both teams were close in the first half.

Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković missed an innocuous shot by Fabián Ruiz and the ball bounced off the post in the ninth minute, but Livaković rallied quickly to block an attempt by Álvaro Morata, who was flagged for offside. Three minutes later, Gavi dragged a shot wide.

But after weathering the initial storm, Croatia, with Modric directing the action from midfield, created the best chances.

Twice Modric launched curling crosses to find Ivan Perišić at the far post, but both times Simon at Spain’s goal saved. But he saved his two best saves for the shootout.

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Unai Simon saves the shot

Spain’s goalkeeper Unai Simon saves a penalty kick from Croatia’s Lovro Majer during a penalty shootout at the end of the Nations League final soccer match between Croatia and Spain at De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, May 18. June 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

ITALY THIRD — AGAIN

Federico Dimarco scored after six minutes and Davide Frattesi had a rebound to double the lead in the 20th to put Italy on course to beat the Netherlands 3-2 and secure third place in the Nations League for the second time in two attempts. .

Steven Bergwijn put the Netherlands back in contention on 68 minutes only for Federico Chiesa to restore the Azzurri’s two-goal lead four minutes later. Substitute Georginio Wijnaldum completed the scoring with a minute of normal time to go as Italy held on.

The defeat in Enschede meant that Ronald Koeman’s side conceded seven goals in two games as hosts of the Nations League final four, after losing 4-2 to Croatia after extra time on Wednesday. Spain beat Italy 2-1 to prepare for the final.