World Cup final 2018: France Win World Cup 20 Years After


    France 4-2 Croatia
**A young team with football’s highest-valued players lifts the sport’s most coveted trophy
Mario Mandzukic has scored the first ever own goal in a World Cup final after France opened the scoring in Moscow against Croatia.

 **Croatia were appearing in their first ever World Cup final, while France were in their second in 20 years, after winning it in France in 1998.


The most thrilling World Cup final since 1986 was won by a team outplayed for long stretches. Three flukeish goals were scored and three marvellous, and in the end the French secured the second World Cup in their history. Yet the Croats — a nation of just 4m people, a startling proportion of them born footballers — could have won with more luck.

Their fans in tablecloth shirts, far more numerous here than the French behind the other goal, will remember with pride the biggest day in national football history, and in fact in former Yugoslav football history. Reports emerged from Belgrade of many Serbs cheering them on. Zlatko Dalic, the Croatian coach, called it “maybe the best match we have played at this World Cup”. World Cup finals are generally cautious affairs, but this one produced as many goals as the four previous ones combined. The first 15 minutes were all Croatia.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron and President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in Russia to support their country

Their ageing team, with eight starters aged 29 and over, pressed the France defence as if fatigue did not exist, despite their having played three consecutive extra-times in the knockout rounds. But the early storm — familiar from top-level European club football — came to nothing. On 18 minutes, a charge by Marcelo Brozovic on Antoine Griezmann produced an arguably correct but rather lightly given free-kick on the edge of Croatia’s penalty area. Griezmann floated in the kick and poor Mario Manduzkic back-headed it on into the top corner of his own net. It was the fourth game in a row that Croatia had fallen behind, but they always stay cool, keep combining and come back.

Sure enough, on 28 minutes, a free-kick by Luka Modric was guided around the French penalty area by various Croats until Domagoy Vida steered it back to Ivan Perisic on the edge of the box. Perisic made space for himself and then lashed a magnificent left-footed strike into the far corner. Inter Milan’s brilliant but inconsistent winger had the tournament of his life. Recommended World Cup 2018 France erupts in joyous moment of World Cup unity But on 38 minutes, Perisic turned villain: on a French corner, he instinctively stuck out a hand to block a ball that was probably going nowhere. It’s the kind of transgression that in thousands of past games went unpunished. Now, with the video assistant referee (VAR), almost everything is spotted. After being alerted to watch the replay on video, the Argentine referee, Nestor Pitana, gave a penalty.

As with the earlier free-kick, his decision wasn’t wrong but it was harsh: it’s unclear that the handball was intentional. “In a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic. Then he quipped: “When VAR goes in your favour it’s good, when it doesn’t it’s bad.” Griezmann’s low spot-kick sent keeper Danijel Subasic the wrong way. Yet the 2-1 lead flattered France. Croatia in the first half swamped midfield — their full-backs pushing up, and wingers Perisic and Ante Rebic dropping back — and outnumbered the France midfield trio. The Croats had 61 per cent possession in the first half, created danger on almost every attack, and went in at half-time unlucky to be behind.

‘What we had in terms of luck during the tournament we lacked today,” shrugged Dalic. Kylian Mbappé was the first teenager to score in a Wolrd Cup final since Pelé did so for Brazil in 1958 as a 17-year-old
 
 What left France undermanned in midfield was coach Didier Deschamps’s choice to keep faith with centre-forward Olivier Giroud. Against Croatia the Chelsea player was as lumbering and ineffectual as he has been all tournament.
   Meanwhile France had two attacking midfielders each valued at well over €50m on the bench, in Nabil Fekir and Thomas Lemar.
It wasn’t just Giroud: in the first half, wonder boy Kylian Mbappé hardly managed to get past his rather less highly rated opponent, journeyman left-back Ivan Strinic. But as so often, after half-time, when players tire and gaps appear, Mbappé found space.
Just when France were reeling, they suddenly sealed the match. On 59 minutes, Paul Pogba unleashed a classic French counterattack with an instant half-volleyed 40-yard pass straight into the path of Mbappé. The youngster’s cross found Griezmann, who laid back to Pogba on the edge of the area. Seeing his right-footed attempt blocked, Pogba instantly curled a left-footer past Subasic. Pogba in his new all-rounder role — as a defensive midfielder who instantly launches attacks — was probably France’s man of the tournament.

 Then Croatia finally did start to tire. Their running off the ball diminished, and gaps appeared. Another momentum-breaker was a four-person pitch invasion, claimed by the Russian feminist group Pussy Riot. They can expect stern punishment for a rare disturbance of a strictly choreographed World Cup. On 65 minutes, a run down the left wing by Lucas Hernandez and then a sideways pass found Mbappé unmarked just outside the Croatian penalty area. Almost as if he did this every week, he curved a hard right-footed shot into Subasic’s corner. Aged 19, he was the youngest player to score in a World Cup final since a 17-year-old named Pelé in 1958.

Dalic said, “If you concede four, you cannot expect a good result.” Luka Modric is tackled by France's Blaise Matuidi: Croatia's playmaker impassively took receipt of the Golden Ball for player of the tournament at the end of the final. But four minutes after France’s fourth, an unconscionably casual attempt at a pass by French keeper Hugo Lloris was blocked into France’s goal by Mandzukic. Had that moment decided the match, it would have hung around Lloris’s neck forever.
 But the Croats were too shattered to threaten the now massed French defence. Giroud was finally replaced on 81 minutes by Fekir.

 The big striker finished his World Cup goalless but will always be a world champion. When the final whistle went, and the French players literally wrapped themselves in tricolores, the most overwhelmed among may have been their two 22-year-old full-backs: a year ago, Benjamin Pavard had just been promoted with Stuttgart from the German second division. Hernandez was a squad player at Atlético Madrid, dreaming of one day playing for Spain, the country where he was raised, rather than his birth country, France. Not even many French football fans had heard of them. Now they are forever in the pantheon. “It’s so beautiful and marvellous. We didn’t play a great game but we showed mental qualities. And we did score four goals, after all. It was deserved. We love the French, we are proud to be French, to be Bleus. Vive la République,” Deschamps said on French television’s TF1.

The wonderful Modric impassively took receipt of the Golden Ball for player of the tournament. He was rewarded with a long embrace from his country’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, wearing her tablecloth shirt. He must hope that his performance here will ease his legal worries: he faces a possible five-year prison sentence after being charged with perjury. The Croatian fans whistled Pitana lustily. Mbappé had to content himself with the prize for best young player of the tournament. President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino, fraternally took turns to hand out the medals. Nobody in the Luzhniki Stadium will have been happier than President Emmanuel Macron of France beside them.

Soaked in his suit after a rainstorm during the medals ceremony, when Mr Putin was briefly the only dignitary equipped with an umbrella, Mr Macron hugged the Croatian players as they passed, but truly got going when the French players arrived, embracing each one like a brother and planting a kiss on Mbappé’s forehead.

The man is a master of the gesture. His nation was reliving probably its happiest collective moment of the postwar era: victory in the World Cup of 1998, when the trophy was lifted by the Bleus’ then captain, Didier Deschamps. Today his players tossed him in the air in joy. Half the French squad broke into Deschamps’ press conference chanting, “Didier Deschamps!”, sprayed him and the watching journalists with water, sang, danced, and then Pogba concluded: “Vive la France! Vive la République!” 

These African players, born in Francophone Africa, represented France, and won the World Cup today. But blacks and Arabs representing African nations failed woefully, eliminated at first round. Why?
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