France are the 2018 FIFA World cup champions after they beat Croatia 4-2 in a match that had everything.
One own goal, one penalty goal given by VAR, three sublime strikes, and one forget-me-moment saw Les Bleus win a second World Cup – their first on away soil. There had been six goals scored in the preceding four World Cup final matches
Russia 2018 must be the World Cup of set pieces and VAR as the final match saw goals from set pieces, either directly or indirectly and a penalty decision awarded after consultation with VAR.
France took the lead with an own goal off an Antoine Griezmann free kick.
Croatia equalised after a melee in the France box caused by Luka Modric. The control and finish by Ivan Perisic was exquisite. And then Nestor Pitana from Argentina awarded a penalty kick to France after consulting VAR on the deliberateness of Perisic’s handball. Two strikes from outside the box in the second half from Paul Pogba and teenage wunderkind, Kylian Mabappe, got France to four and a calamitous mistake from Lloris gifted Croatia their second.
Croatia started the sharper and pressed France in their half. They were also physical with Modric and Mario Mandzukic fouling Samuel Umtiti in the first five minutes. Kylian Mbappe had to track Ivan Strinic into his box to concede a corner in the eighth minute. Ivan Rakitic almost delivered the perfect ball to Perisic in the France box on 11 minutes as Croatia continued to press the 1998 champions.
On 17 minutes, Marcelo Brozovic was penalised for fouling Griezmann about five metres from the box – a decision he disputed and on second viewing, the free kick was at best a soft one. Griezmann delivered the ball and Mandzukic flicked the ball past his goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic.
Pogba almost freed Mbappe with a pass from midfield on 22 minutes but Strinic made a good covering tackle. N’Golo Kante had to trip Perisic and get a yellow card in the 27th minute. Modric delivered the free kick with Mandzukic and Domagoj Vida winning the second balls before Perisic controlled from Kante and blasted past Hugo Lloris for the equaliser.
What a goal!
But seven minutes later, Perisic turned from hero to villain as Nelson Pitana, after consultation with VAR, adjudged the Inter Milan forward to have handled the ball deliberately from a Griezmann corner. The Atletico Madrid forward stepped forward and sent Subasic the wrong way. France were back in front – albeit controversially.
There was almost an instant riposte from Ante Rebic but his half-volley was weak and directly at Lloris.
Griezmann had the first shot on target for France after Olivier Giroud broke into the Croatia box. The Vatreni replied immediately going to the other end and forcing Lloris into a good save.
Good start for the second stanza with both teams being offensively positive. Varane lost the ball to Mandzukic but Umtiti came to his rescue. Varane’s touch from Mandzukic saved France on 49 minutes as Croatia poured forward.
By the fifth minute, Croatia had played two corner kicks and winning almost all 50-50 balls. On 51 minutes, Mbappe raced past Vida and it took Subasic’s feet to keep the score as it was. Lloris had to confront Madzukic again and conceded a corner.
Kante was taken out of the action on 54 minutes and Steven Nzonzi sent on to add height and metronomic nature to the French midfield as Didier Deschamps tried to wrest control from the Croats. In the 58th, Perisic failed to hit Mandzukic with a cross.
A Hollywood pass from Pogba allowed Mbappe another run at the Croat defenders, which he did to good effect. A pass to Griezmann, and after some juggling, he found Pogba, who had his first effort blocked but he followed that with a left-footed curling effort that left Subasic stranded.
France had a two-goal lead on the hour.
Brozovic had to strain the last sinew to take a sure goal away from Griezmann, who was poised to deliver the coup de grace. Mbappe added the fourth French goal with a shot from outside the box that again left Subasic stranded. Credit must go to Lucas Hernadez, who had jinked past two Croats to get the pass through to the teenage wonder.
Lloris was then caught dawdling on the ball and Mandzukic scored for Croatia. What a mistake from France’s captain – hand in heads moment.
Dalic sent on Andrej Kramaric for Rebic with 20 minutes left on the clock. Brozovic was injured by Lovren and play had to be stopped. Another stoppage as Umtiti and Mandzukic clash heads in the centre of the pitch.
Corentin Tolisso came on for Blaise Matuidi on 73 minutes as Deschamps shored up his midfield. Rakitic shot at goal but it went wide on 77 minutes. Rakitic had a punt on 88 minutes as Croatia ran out of ideas and out of gas.
Five minutes were added on and it was stop-start as France held on to make Deschamps the third man in FIFA World cup history after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer to win the trophy as a player and as a manager.