2018 World Cup Final Recap — France 4, Croatia 2 (July 15)

France lifted the Jules Rimet trophy for the second time in its history as teenager Kylian Mbappe capped his global coming out party with his fourth goal of the World Cup as Les Bleus recorded a 4-2 victory over final debutant Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.

In a match that typified a World Cup that seemingly had everything to offer, the final had a little bit of everything — an own goal, a penalty after consultation by VAR, spectators rushing the field, a howler by a goalkeeper and a pair of world-class strikes — as the two European sides did not hold back in a rollicking back-and-forth affair that Les Bleus took control of with two goals six minutes apart midway through the second half.

Antoine Griezmann converted a penalty in the first half, Paul Pogba’s goal in the 59th minute stood as the match-winner and France got an own goal from Mario Mandzukic. Les Bleus added a second star to put over Le Coq Gaulois alongside their 1998 victory as hosts.

Unsurprisingly, Mbappe won the Young Player Award while Croatia midfielder Luka Modric was named the Golden Ball winner as the tournament’s best player, the sixth straight World Cup in which the Golden Ball winner came from the runner-up.

The defeat capped a stunning run under coach Zlatko Dalic, who took over the Vatreni for their final European qualifier, a 2-0 victory at Ukraine in October 2017 that got them into a two-legged playoff against Greece from which they emerged victorious to simply qualify for Russia.

England’s Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot with six goals, while Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois claimed the Golden Glove as the tournament’s top keeper.

With France president Emmanuel Macron cheering on and later offering heartfelt hugs to his and Croatia’s players along with Croatia prime minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic as they received their medals, Les Bleus capped Bastille Day weekend celebrations in grand style and moved on from the disappointment of losing the 2016 European Championship on their home soil.

The second-youngest side behind Nigeria at this World Cup, France will enter the 2020 Euros — played out across the continent before descending upon Wembley Stadium in England for the semifinals and final — as the prohibitive favorite in addition to being a team expected to be on the short list of potential World Cup champions in Qatar in four years’ time.

Manager Didier Deschamps became just the third person to win the World Cup as a player and manager as the talisman of the 1998 squad joined German great Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo on that exclusive list. France also joined a select group with its second World Cup title, joining Brazil (5), Italy (4), Germany (4), Argentina (2) and Uruguay (2) as multiple winners.

Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic scored the goals for Croatia, but Perisic’s handball led to Griezmann’s penalty in the 38th minute that gave France the lead for good at 2-1. The Vatreni showed no signs of the fatigue expected of a team that had played extra time in all three of their previous matches and had to go to penalties twice but also lacked a finishing edge in the final third as they gave Les Bleus all they could handle throughout the final.

It was Croatia’s best finish at the World Cup, surpassing its run to the 1998 semifinals — also ended by France — in its first appearance on the global stage following the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Both teams retained their starting XIs from their respective semifinals victories as well as their 4-2-3-1 formations. France was decked out in its traditional blue uniforms while Croatia busted out its large red-and-white checkerboard tops.

Both teams started cautiously, Croatia on the ball first before France getting its first spell of possession. Luka Modric was aggressive early, getting whistled for a pair of fouls. Ivan Rakitic nearly created a scoring chance when he stepped in front of Benjamin Pavard and stormed down the left before being turned away by Samuel Umtiti for a throw-in.

The first Croatian cross came in from the right in the fifth minute by Sime Vrsaljko but was cleared by Raphael Varane. The Vatreni won the first corner kick of the contest in the eighth minute when Pogba deflected Ivan Strinic’s dribble over the end line.

Modric played it short to Strinic on the left, but it was Mbappe’s turn to show he can defend as well as attack, conceding a second corner with a well-timed slide. Modric whipped this attempt into the mixer, but Varane strongly headed clear.

Croatia continued to be the more aggressive team with Strinic pushing forward to pin Mbappe back on the right. Rakitic picked out Perisic over the top on the left in the 11th minute, but Perisic could not control it with an extended boot and it rolled out for a France goal kick.

Pavard got caught out going up for a 50/50 ball as Strinic steamed down the left, winning another corner that failed to amount to anything. Mbappe showed just how dangerous his pace could be when he twisted Croatia’s left back into a pretzel before a cross from the end line was cleared.

Mandzukic’s own goal for France that opened the scoring came completely against the run of play. Griezmann drew a free kick 30 yards out on the right with a foul on Marcelo Brozovic in the 18th minute, and his curling left-footed effort glanced off the Croatian striker’s head and inside the left post.

It was the first goal in the World Cup final scored in regulation since Marco Materazzi scored in the 19th minute for Italy in 2006. It was also the first own goal in a World Cup final and record 12th own goal overall in Russia.

But falling behind in the knockout round has been nothing new for the Vatreni, who trailed against Denmark, Russia and England before fighting back. Modric drew a foul on the right sideline parallel to the 18-yard line, but Domagoj Vida’s header from Modric’s free kick sailed well over the bar in the 21st minute.

Mbappe hared off after a through ball, but Strinic made a vital clearance just above the penalty area. A quick Croatia counter led to another free kick, but Hugo Lloris emphatically punched out Modric’s curling cross into the mixer.

Nestor Pitana brandished his yellow card for the first time in the 28th minute when N’Golo Kante clipped Ivan Perisic’s heels as he carried through the middle. The ensuing free kick eventually led to Croatia’s equalizer in the 29th minute when three headers eventually re-directed the ball to the middle of the penalty area, where Vida knocked it down for Perisic. He touched it to his left before lashing a left-footed shot across Lloris and inside the right post.

It was Perisic’s third goal of the tournament and the third consecutive Croatia goal he was involved in after scoring the equalizer against England and assisting on Mandzukic’s match-winner in the semifinal. It was also the first goal France conceded since Sergio Aguero’s header in second-half stoppage time for Argentina in the round of 16.

A misjudged header by Vida on Lloris’ goal kick trying to pick out Mbappe gifted France a corner in the 34th minute. Griezmann’s in-swinger from the right hit Perisic on the left hand, prompting Pitana to consult VAR and correctly award Les Bleus a penalty.

It pitted Griezmann, who had converted twice from the spot leading up to the final against Danjiel Subasic, who made four saves in shootout victories over Denmark and Russia. The Atletico Madrid showed no nerves in slotting it to his left as Subasic fell in the other direction as France regained the lead at 2-1 with his fourth goal of the tournament.

Croatia nearly answered straightaway as Perisic sent a cross into the middle that Ante Rebic mishit and Mandzukic could not get to quick enough as it spun softly to Lloris. Lucas Hernandez was given a yellow card for cutting down Rebic as the two chased a ball near the right sideline in the midfield.

Modric sent another tantalizing free kick into the mixer in the 43rd minute that Pavard deflected after Perisic got his head to it as France conceded a corner. Les Bleus were forced to concede a second corner that nearly was calamitous before Olivier Giroud fired it clear.

Umtiti went down in the 45th minute after Dejan Lovren fell on his leg in the scramble of the ensuing corner, leaving France with 10 men to deal with another corner that Vida narrowly missed re-directing inside the right post. After three minutes of stoppage time, Pitana finally ended proceedings to a manic first half complete with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder.

Subasic made the first save by either goalkeeper in the 47th minute, calmly catching Griezmann’s shot from 25 yards after Giroud played it back to him in yards of open space. Lloris quickly got his first, tipping Rebic’s sharp-angled blast over the bar with his left hand after he was superbly played in from the left by Rakitic.

Lloris had to make a vital clearance outside the penalty area in the 49th minute after Varane got a touch to a long ball over the top by Brozovic trying to pick out Perisic. Croatia continued to turn the screws on France’s defense, earning its sixth corner when Modric made an aggressive play on the right.

Vrsaljko tried a speculative volley on a headed clearance off the corner that went well wide. The Vatreni were in full flow offensively, playing more directly and looking no worse for the wear despite all the extra yards accumulated from their previous matches as France struggled to find any cohesion and lengthy spell of possession.

Pogba sent Mbappe through on the right and he almost got around Vida before having a sharp-angled shot stopped. The game was then stopped momentarily in the 52nd minute when four spectators raced onto the field and were hauled off by security. Lloris then made a brave punch on Rakitic’s ball over the top, conceding a corner while getting plowed by Mandzukic.

Deschamps, seeing how Kante could not play his normal game sitting on a yellow, lifted the Chelsea midfielder on 55 minutes for Steven N’Zonzi. Perisic, continuing to give Pavard all sorts of issues on the left, overcooked a cross from Mandzukic in the 58th minute.

Pogba started the play that led to his goal in the 59th minute, releasing Mbappe forward on the right from his own half. The teen starlet worked free of Strinic deep in the penalty area and passed it to Griezmann, who laid it off to Pogba at the top of the penalty area. His right-footed shot was blocked by a defender, but his rasping left-footed one caught a screened Subasic flat-footed and made it 3-1.

The match now fully open, France now went about picking apart Croatia on the counter. Mbappe officially kicked off the celebration in the 65th minute, taking a lateral pass from Hernandez and touching it to his right before cutting it inside Vida and the left post from 20 yards for his fourth goal of the World Cup and a three-goal advantage.

He became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958, and his four goals in Russia were the most by a teen since the Brazilian legend bagged six in that tournament in Sweden.

Croatia pulled one back in the 69th minute through a moment of sheer madness by Lloris, who tried to play a back pass around Mandzukic, but the Croatian striker tapped the keeper’s crossover into the net for his third goal of the tournament.

Zlatko Dalic made his first swap in the 71st minute, introducing Andrej Kramaric for Rebic, and Deschamps countered two minutes later with Blaise Matuidi making way for Corentin Tolisso.

Rakitic narrowly went wide of the right post from the top of the penalty area in the 78th minute. France had succeeded in slowing the pace down to a degree, yet Croatia persisted in its efforts to find a way back into the match. Deschamps made his final switch in the 81st minute, taking off Giroud for the fresh legs of Nabil Fekir whie Dalic called on Marko Pjaca for Strinic.

Pjaca, though, had a heavy first touch on the right after being picked out by Kramaric. Rakitic had a free kick from the left from 35 yards in the 84th minute, but drilled it right at Lloris.

France’s bench poured onto the field after Pitana blew the final whistle to begin celebrating while many Croatia players collapsed onto the pitch where they were in exhaustion after bending but not breaking a disciplined and pragmatic Les Bleus side that found the extra gear in counterattack.

After the match, the punk rock protest group Pussy Riot claimed responsibility for the pitch invasion, which consisted of three women and one man. The group gained global notoriety after singing a song denouncing Russia president Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Two members of the band, including the wife of the male arrested — identified as Pyotr Vezilov — served a two-year prison sentence as part of that incident.

 

 

Author: Chris Altruda

Currently a freelance sportswriter on the hunt for full-time work. If you like my work or have constructive criticism, please share it and/or contact me at chris.altruda@hotmail.com or via Twitter at @AlTruda73 My portfolio of clippings can be viewed at http://www.clippings.me/caltruda And thank you for taking time out of your day to read my posts.

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