France are the new tsars of football after they defeated a gusty Croatia and the rest of the globe 4-2 to win the 21st Fifa World Cup here on Sunday. The French attained football nirvana for the second time after having gone all the way at home in 1998. Just like Belgium and England in the semifinals, Croatia paid the price for not making their first-half dominance count.
Willed on by all homo sapiens except the French variety, Croatia fought like warriors but the comeback kings of the tournament could not conjure another famous rally. There was no shame in going down after such a fight, although the better team of the night lost. After a 1-0 result in the final of the last two World Cups, Russia has supplied the highest scoring decider since Argentina’s 3-2 win in 1986.
France were lucky to go into the break with a 2-1 lead because Croatia were clearly superior in the entire half. The tentative French appeared particularly vulnerable in the air. But it was Les Bleus that went ahead in the 18th minute through a familiar route. Antoine Griezmann floated in a free kick, which he had questionably won just outside the box on the right, and Mario Mandzukic headed the ball into his own net. The hero of Croatia’s semifinal win lost sight of the ball by Raphael Varane’s eleventh-minute run across.
Until then, France hadn’t done anything of note to deserve the lead. But that is football, which can punish the slightest lapse in concentration so ruthlessly. For the third knockout match in a row, France scored a goal off a Griezmann’s free kick from almost the same position.
But Croatia, who had come back from a goal down in all their knock-out matches here, hit back with a fine goal 10 minutes later. A Luka Modric free kick reached Perisic near the centre of the box after three touches and the Inter forward moved the ball away from his right foot to the left before blasting it past the French goalkeeper with a diagonal shot.
The majestic Luzhniki Stadium, a veritable Russian monument, struggled to stay intact with the eruption of Croatian celebrations. It was like a home match for Croatia who had monopolised the stands. The goal was the least the enterprising Balkan nation deserved.
Perisic then played a part in a goal at the other end, as he conceded a penalty with a handball off a corner. Griezmann rolled the ball past the Croatian goalie to score his third penalty of the tournament and fourth overall.
The first half served as the perfect appetiser for a compelling second. Ante Rebic of Croatia drew a superb save from Hugo Lloris after with a superb first-time shot from the left after being set up by Ivan Rakitic beautifully. France, all of a sudden, came alive with two goals in six minutes by the hour mark to stun their opponents. Midfielder Paul Pogba opened his account in Russia with a crisp shot after his initial effort had been blocked.
Kylian Mbappe had done the spadework for the third with some nifty work on the right. And the teenage sensation got into the act himself with a goal from outside the box. With no marker around him after he received the ball from the excellent Lucas Hernandez, his job was to pick his spot. And, he did that with aplomb to become the first teenager to score in the final since Pele in 1958.
A horrendous mistake by Lloris in the 69th minute provided a glimmer of hope to Croatia. The French goalie cleared an innocuous back pass into the boot of Mandzukic to allow the Croatian to expiate his guilty feelings for the own goal. Although Croatia put France under tremendous pressure, another comeback eluded the most resilient team of the competition. It was the end of a poignant story.
Didier Deschamps, captain of the victorious French team in 1998, joined Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer on the list of World Cup winners both as a player and coach. And, his defender Varane has now won the World Cup after nailing the Champions League with Real earlier this season.