Meanwhile in Moscow: Vive La France! The World Cup Is Bleu!

In the end, tradition won. The World Cup Winners remains an elite club with very strict admission rules. France covered themselves with glory for the second time, while brusquely rejecting Croatia’s application to join the club. The final showdown at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow ended 4-2 for Didier Deschamps’ side, but we need to thank both teams for giving life to one of the most entertaining finals in decades. Six goal in the last act of a World Cup is something we had not been seeing since England 1966…

Honner au mérite. France captured their second World Cup title, 20 years after their home triumph in Saint Denis, at the end of a tournament in which they objectively appeared the strongest side. The link between those two titles is Didier Deschamps, once a solid defender in Aimé Jaquet’s selection from 1998, today a well-respected coach who managed to balance experience and exuberance.
Well, isn’t this a classic? Coach Didier Deschamps played a big part in France’s triumph, finding the right mix between experienced players and the exuberance of his young aces

Les Bleus had already shown to be ready for a major international title two years ago, when they were scorned by a lone goal by Portuguese parvenu Eder in the Final of their home European Championship. They didn’t miss today, parading all their stars – from the young sensation Kylian Mbappé, to the solid Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud, passing through the class of Paul Pogba. Their strategy for the Final was flawless and almost perfect, with Hugo Lloris’ blunder giving some hope to Croatia only on paper.

The Croatians arrived to the Final without having it anymore, as it could be expected after having gone the distance three times in a row in their previous matches. They managed to answer back as France went 1-0, thanks again to a superb Ivan Perisic, but collapsed in the second half, when two shots from out of the box ultimately condemned them. Penalty-stopper Danijel Subasic was disappointing this time, and also Luka Modric failed to illuminate his team, putting together a colorless performance.
This time, Luka Modric – here challenged by Ngolo Kante – didn’t shine. However, the Real Madrid midfielder still managed to get the Golden Ball title as the best player of this World Cup

Modric still managed to catch the Golder Ball award for best player of the World Cup, snatching it out of Kylian Mbappé  – who was in turn named the best young player. A meager consolation. This generation of Croatian players is still in its prime, but it’s hard to imagine the Vatreni having such a big chance again.

For the mother of all battles in Moscow, Didier Deschamps and Zlatko Dalic put caution aside, and lined up the best they could: No sruprises thus in the starting elevens, both featuring a 4-2-3-1 module. Olivier Giroud was supported by Blaise Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann, and Kylian Mbappé. Mario Mandzukic was Croatia’s lone striker, with Ivan Perisic, Luka Modric, and Ante Rebic on his back.

The Balkans’ start was a flash in the pan, with Modric and his side pushing for the first 15 minutes. Les Bleus, however, took the lead on their very first chance. Le Petit Diable Griezmann served one of his trademark free kicks from the right side. Mandzukic was the first to reach the ball, but his head deflection went in the wrong direction and beat Subasic, for the 12th own goal of this championship edition – quite an odd record.
Mario Mandzukic’s unfortunate header sent the ball into his own goal, bringing France ahead after 19 minutes

Mbappé tried to join the party just three minutes later, and it took a providential tackle by Domagoj Vida to stop him. The battle between the 19-year-old starlet and the imposing Croatian center back was a leitmotiv in the game, and even if the French ultimately took the title, the Dynamo Kyiv player held his own well, confirming to be among the best defenders seen in Russia.

In an ideal best 11 line up, he could very well be joined by Ivan Perisic. It was Inter’s winger indeed to give Croatia a temporary boost of confidence, equalising for the Balkans in the 27th minute. Perisic caught in the box a well-worked ball by Vida, adjusted it with his right foot, and shot an unstoppable screamer with his left, leaving no chance at all to Lloris. What a goal!

And still, football can be cruel at times. Less than 10 minutes later, Perisic became the unfortunate protagonist of the episode that brought the French back into the lead. From a corner shot from the right, Matuidi slightly touched the ball, just enough to send it on Perisic’s open arm. Referee Nestor Pitana didn’t seem to realize that, but upon the blatant protests from the French side he decided who check – guess who’s back! – the VAR.
Ivan Perisic’s protests didn’t move Nestor Pitana. After consulting the VAR, the Argentinian referee awarded a penalty that Antoine Griezmann converted for France

We had not seen the video assistant technology in action for a while, and indeed what kind of Final would have this been, without an intervention from the most debated novelty of this World Cup edition? After three intense minutes, Pitana pointed to the penalty spot, taking a decision that – if truth be told – still leaves us with a few doubts. Griezmann found himself in front of a massive white-and-red checkered wall, the penalty spot facing right the Croatian fans stand. But he was cool enough to convert it, sending the teams for the break with France leading 2-1.

In just half time, we had already seen more goals than in the previous two 120-minute World Cup Finals combined. Ball possession read 61% in favor of Croatia, and the count of shots 7-1 for the Vatreni. French were cynical and merciless, the Croats more aggressive but inconclusive: At the end of the day, Lloris never had to save the day during the first half.

He had to do so, however, right after the break, when Rebic caught a filtering bass by Marcelo Brozovic and tried to surprise him. Tottenham’s goalie deflected his shot above the woodwork. In the 51st minute, Mbappé left Vida behind with a powerful acceleration. He was blocked by a timely exit by Subasic, but the replay also shown Vida’s decisive work to unbalance the Paris Saint Germain striker.
Croatia players are hopeless after Paul Pogba’s third goal for France…

Deschamps sent in Steven Nzonzi for an exhausted Ngolo Kanté, and found the third goal in the 58th minute. This time, it was Paul Pogba’s turn to make it to the scorecard, at the end of an action initiated and concluded by himself, but which also saw the participation of Mbappé and Griezmann. Pogba’s first conclusion was parried back from the Croatian defense, but his second attempt hit the target.

Brozovic prevented the French from making it four just two minutes later, clearing away a cross from the left which was destined to an all-alone Mbappé, but the rendevouz with scoring in a World Cup final was only delayed by a few minutes for the teenager. In the 64th minute, Giroud worked hard in the box to defend the ball and serve it to the young ace, whose long-range shot caught Subasic unprepared.

Kylian Mbappé thus became the second youngest player to have ever scored a goal in a world championship last act, just behind a gentleman named Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pelé for his friends.
Kylian Mbappé scored a goal in a World Cup Final at 19. Only Pelé managed to do so at a younger age, in 1958. Just saying.

With his side leading 4-1, Lloris tried to reanimate a match that seemed to have nothing more to say, delivering the second goal to the Croatians with a shameful blunder. Samuel Umtiti called him to action with a back pass, and the goalie thought to attempt a dribbling on Mandzukic, resulting in a clearance that bounced on Juventus’ striker, ending in the net. At least, Manduzkic could balance his unfortunate own-goal…

But the game was well over, despite Dalic’s late additions of Josip Pivaric and Marko Pjaca. The only additional attempts for the pursuing Croatians came from Ivan Rakitic and a few unpretentious shots from out of the box. Rain started to come down right at full time, symbolically closing the curtain on a World Cup edition where the level of play was not at its highest, but that provided entertainment and emotions until the end. A perfectly-organized edition of the tournament, it needs to be said, much to the credit of Russia.
Way to go, Monsieur Le President! This image of French President Emmanuel Macron in the VIP box will likely make it to football history…

Captain Hugo Lloris could ultimately raise the trophy designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga (well, at least there is always going to be something Italian in a World Cup Final…) under a pouring rain, to the delight of their President Emmanuel Macron, who had let himself go to a wild celebration during the hammering. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, on the other hand, was seen asking FIFA chief Gianni Infantino if she could at least touch and kiss the cup, moments before it was handed to Lloris. Tasting the last moments of a sweet dream that went so close to be fulfilled, before reality hit hard the underdog Croatians.

This time, the party is all for France and, in all fairness, it’s going to be a night of well-deserved celebrations on the Champs Elysées.
The moment of celebration for France: Captain Hugo Lloris raises the World Cup to the sky


July 15, 2018 – World Cup Final

SCORERS: 19′ Mandzukic (C, o.g.), 28′ Perisic (C), 38′ Griezmann (F, pen.), 59′ Pogba (F), 65′ Mbappé (F), 69′ Mandzukic (C)

France FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Pogba, Kante (54′ Nzonzi); Mbappe, Griezmann, Matuidi (73′ Tolisso); Giroud (81′ Fekir) (Mandanda, Areola, Kimpembe, Lemar, Dembelé, Rami, Sidibe, Thauvin, Mendy) Coach: Deschamps
Croatia CROATIA (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (81′ Pjaca); Rakitic, Brozovic; Rebic (71′ Kramaric), Modric, Perisic; Mandzukic (Livakovic, Kalinic, Corluka, Kovacic, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Badelj, Pivaric) Coach: Dalic

REFEREE: Pitana (Argentina)
NOTES: Attendance: 78000; Yellow Cards: Kanté, Hernandez (F), Vrsaljko (C)


Click below to relive some of France and Croatia’s previous games at World Cup 2018:
France-Australia 2-1
France-Peru 1-0
France-Argentina 4-3
Uruguay-France 0-2
France-Belgium 1-0
Argentina-Croatia 0-3
Iceland-Croatia 1-2
Croatia-Denmark 1-1; 3-2 on penalties
Russia-Croatia 2-2; 3-4 on penalties
Croatia-England 2-1