And on the 32nd day, we shall rest
For 31 days and nights the eyes of the footballing world have been transfixed upon the eleven cities in Russia that have hosted the world largest – and greatest – sporting event.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators packed themselves into the competitions 12 stadiums and hundreds of millions more watched through their television screens as 32 nations poured their hearts and souls into the pursuit of the elusive Coup de Monde.
Hailed as perhaps the greatest World Cup ever, Russia ’18 saw giants fall and new stars emerge; the footballing world tipped on its head as powerhouses such as Germany, Spain, and Argentina all failed to deliver on their proud footballing pedigrees.
Les Bleus however, failed to get that memo.
The French, 20 years after they last hoisted the World Cup trophy, dominated on their way to the final; dispatching powerhouses Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium on their way.
And on Monday morning a ruthless France crushed the dreams of 4.1 million Croatians, running out 4-2 victors over a brave Vatreni at the Luzhniki Stadium.
France drew first blood as the clocked ticked over to the 18th minute of the contest; a controversial free kick won by Antoine Griezmann giving them a free kick on the right wing outside the Croatian penalty area.
Fortuitously for France, Griezmann’s resulting free-kick was inadvertently headed home by defending Mario Mandžukić, giving Les Bleus – who had been outplayed to that point – an unlikely lead.
A fantastic strike from Croatia’s Ivan Perišić leveled things up once again in the 28th minute before World Cup history was made minutes later: VAR making its first-ever appearance in a World Cup final.
Meeting an under-hit Griezmann corner at the near post, French midfielder Blaise Matuidi’s onward flick was blocked by Perišić, his arms out wide as he lept into the air.
With French players howling in protest, referee Nestor Pitana was summoned to the sideline by his VAR crew to examine for a potential handball.
Despite it happening at a lightning pace, replays confirmed that Perišić had indeed unfairly blocked Matuidi’s flick-on with his hands and Pitana had no choice but to point to the spot.
Griezmann made no mistake from the resulting penalty, slotting home past Danijel Subašić to once again have France in front.
Despite being outplayed in the remainder of the first half, France then managed to escape to halftime with a slender one-goal lead, before coming out firing in the second.
Paul Pogba, much maligned prior to the World Cup but earning a newfound level of respect with his levelheadedness and poise during the tournament, finished a move he started with a pinpoint pass to Kylian Mbappe in the 59th minute.
Finding himself with a yard of space atop the area at the conclusion of the move, the Manchester United man had his first shot blocked, but made no such mistake with the second.
Six minutes later it was the young phenom Mbappe that got into the action.
Collecting a perfectly weighted ball from left-back Lucas Hernández, Mbappe collected the ball in a yard of space around 25-yards-out proceeding to then to launch a venomous shot into the bottom corner to make it 4-1.
Mandžukić would go some way to atone for his earlier error four minutes later when he chased down French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as he attempted – inexplicably – to dribble the ball out of his own area and knock the ball into the net to make it 4-2.
Despite desperately throwing strikers on in an effort to make up the deficit, Croatia was from that point unable to trouble the scorers again, with France lifting their second World Cup trophy in 20 years.
With an estimated squad value of £1.24 Billion entering Russia 2018, Les Bleus had appeared the footballing equivalent of the Palace of Versailles entering the 2018 World Cup – wealthy, opulent, golden and unique.
The pre-tournament favourites forged a dominant path to the World Cup trophy through a knockout stage run that harkened to the words of the Eternal Thanos in Marvel’s recent Avengers: Infinity War when he said “Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same.”
And while their performance in the final may have failed to live up the expectations they set of themselves in previous performances, they were worthy winners on the day and deserving World Cup Winners.
Beneath the façade of luxury and inevitable success that they brought to the tournament, however, was a French foundation built upon grit, struggle and the dreams of immigrants.
Eight of Didier Deschamps’ – who became only the third man to win a World Cup as both a player and a manager – squad that came to Russia, including final starters Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba and wunderkind Kylian Mbappé had – despite their current status as some the most revered footballers on the planet; wealthy beyond imagination and key drivers of footballs global economy – humble origins in the banlieues of their homeland.
Whilst not an official label within the nation, an upbringing in the banlieues on the outskirts of Paris serves both a label and an identity.
Highly multicultural and populated by the working-class, immigrants and their dependents, the banlieues are prejudicially derided as being a place of riots and social unrest in the French consciousness; considered by some as breeding grounds for crime and terrorism.
They serve as a favourite target of the dog-whistles of the French far-right, who have been buoyed in recent times by their electoral gains made in the 2016 elections.
Nevertheless, it’s also an area that has been described as being one of the most fertile football recruiting grounds in the entire world.
With the number of people in the broader Parisian reaching almost 12 million, the banlieues possess a young population, a disproportionally high number of football sides and a street footballing culture that lends itself to producing some of the finest footballers in the world; attracting club scouts like moths to a flame.
Furthermore, this French team, with its ranks swelled by those with African heritage thanks to France’s colonialist past, had also been marked by some – both in the global south and elsewhere – as the “last remaining African side” in the World Cup.
Such an identifier, while demonstrating the clear diversity and multiculturalism modern France can aspire too, came as a double-edged sword; with the players of African descent no doubt fully aware that the French far-right had – and would be quite willing to once again – used any of their perceived failings as a reason to declare them as being “Un-French” and as reason to stir hatred of their fellow minorities.
This concern that the French sides diversity could be used as a hammer against French minorities was echoed by the French ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, in a July 5 tweet.
Frankly, I consider this tweet as repulsive. (1) False : all these players are French born and are as French citizens as I am 2) so what? A problem with the color of their skin? Why do you endorse the narrative of the far-right? https://t.co/ls0sKJHBKk
— Gérard Araud (@GerardAraud) July 5, 2018
It was fitting then, that it was Pogba and Mbappé provided the sealers in the final: two players descended from migrants who possess games that were birthed on the streets of the banlieues and careers forged within its clubs.
Mbappé’s goal put him into the rare air only tasted by one other – the immortal Pele – as a teenager to score a goal in the World Cup Final.
Named as the FIFA Young Player Award Winner of the tournament, World Cup 2018 has seen the youngster emerge as the biggest star in world football.
It’s no doubt a lot to take on but, despite his tender age, Mbappé has already embraced his position as a figurehead of French football.
Making a mockery of those that would deride his humble upbringing, the 19-year-old speaks with a wisdom beyond his years; as demonstrated in an interview with French publication Le Monde two days before the final.
“Football is, for me, more than a sport,” Mbappé said.
“Just see the impact it has on society.
“People come to the stadium to forget their lives for ninety minutes, and it’s up to us to take care of them; to make them get up from their chairs so that they fall asleep with stars in their eyes.
“When I was younger, there were players who gave me this pleasure, and now I’m in the one in that role.”
Set to be only 23-years-old at Qatar 2022, Mbappé could very well use this World Cup win to springboard France into a new golden age.