France became two-time world champions as they defeated Croatia 4-2 in a six-goal spectacle at the Luzhniki Stadium.
A controversial penalty awarding had France leading at half-time, with Antoine Griezmann converting after Ivan Perisic cancelled out a Mario Mandzukic own goal. Goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe killed off Croatia, but for a consolation from Mandzukic, it was dancing in the rain for Les Bleus.
It was Zlatko Dalic’s men who started the brighter, Perisic the consistent threat down the left wing, the French looked quite nervous in the world’s biggest football game. But, as they have done all tournament, Didier Deschamps has instilled a resilience in this squad, they rode out the storm and opened the scoring.
Although, they were given an almighty helping ‘head’ from the towering Juventus forward on 18 minutes. Griezmann delivered and as Raphael Varane looked to glance it on as he did against Uruguay, it bypassed him and nicked off Mandzukic’s head, advantage France.
But, Croatia have fallen behind in all their knock-out games at this World Cup, they were a battling side who weren’t going to be feeling sorry for themselves. Mandzukic heading on Luka Modric’s free kick had France defenders scrambling, but the loose ball fell to Perisic on the edge of the box.
With a caressed touch off his right foot, he lashed a shot in with his left, it flicked Varane and found the corner, game on in Moscow.
Approaching half-time, it was a shock to see the Croats so dominant in possession, the likes of Mbappe, Griezmann and Pogba were largely ineffective due to the committed pressing by their opponents. Then came a set-piece, where three of France’s last four goals had come from.
Blaise Matuidi couldn’t glance on Griezmann’s corner, but Perisic’s hand got a full connection, enter VAR. Referee Nesto Pitana made history as after referring to the screen, judged Perisic of handball, penalty and the inevitable conversion from the Atletico Madrid star. Debatable call it should be said, luckily more was to come.
The second half showed no signs of a change in momentum, Croatia were controlled with Modric dictating the tempo from deep and Perisic and Ante Rebic menacing defenders. Unfortunately, they didn’t fashion the clear chances and were punished in a five minute second half spell.
In the 59th minute, the 19-year-old super-car Mbappe was released down the right, barely into fourth gear, he braked and crossed, the ball deflected back to Pogba. His initial shot was blocked, but on the edge of the box, he curled a sweet left foot shot past the helpless Danijel Subasic.
Before Croatia had time to respond, Lucas Hernandez drove down the left and picked out Mbappe in the centre, 20 yards out. His engine was on hold but his right foot packed a punch, he drilled a shot into the bottom corner and became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele. Deschamps’ men had one hand on the gold.
Although, there was time for one more moment of madness from this mesmerising World Cup. Hugo Lloris, normally pretty composed and assured, was bizarrely lackadaisical in trying to dribble past Mandzukic, he was tackled and it was now 4-2.
A late flurry was in the end beyond the tireless legs of Croatia and it was triumph 20 years on from their 1998 success, where Deschamps was captain. Following a humbling defeat two years ago in their own back-yard in Euro 2016. this was the maturing and establishing of this exciting France team.
Many stood-out, Varane a colossal figure in defence and outside contender for Ballon D’Or now? The partnership of Pogba and N’Golo Kante are still unbeaten in blue and were both magnifique. Griezmann the creator-in-chief, with Mbappe living up to his promise, a guaranteed star for the next decade and Young Player of the Tournament.
Some consolation or bitter-sweet win for Modric, he won ‘Golden Ball’, an outstanding showing from one of football’s most talented maestros. But it ends with ‘Allez Le Bleus’ from the ‘Motherland’.
For all the astonishing upsets, terrific goals, last minute scenes, penalty shoot-out drama (remember, England did win on penalties), VAR shocks and a thrilling final for once, Merci Russia.