France won the World Cup for a second time following a ruthless 4-2 victory over Croatia in a thrilling final at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday night.
Despite a vibrant start from the Vatreni, France took an early lead via an own goal from Mario Mandzukic, as the Juventus forward could only divert Antoine Griezmann’s free kick into the net off the top of his head.
Ivan Perisic scored a marvelous equaliser on 28 minutes, shifting the ball onto his left foot and slamming the ball home after some pinball like play in the box.
The game was plunged into controversy not long after though, with the first ever VAR ruling in a World Cup final coming at the expense of Perisic and Croatia. The Inter Milan playmaker was helpless to avoid the ball striking his hand from Blaise Matuidi’s near post header, but Griezmann dispatched of the penalty to give his country the advantage again.
The teams went into the half-time break with Croatia enjoying 61% of possession and France registering just one attempt at Danijel Subasic’s goal – being the penalty.
Paul Pogba bagged a third with a precise left footed finish past a well-beaten goalkeeper, before Kylian Mbappe put the result beyond all doubt, striking into the bottom corner from range as Domagoj Vida allowed him space.
Mandzukic atoned for his own goal and constructed a route back into the match for his country in bizarre fashion, as he pressed Hugo Lloris all the way to his goal and essentially tackled the ball into the net, however, it was not to be for the Croatians.
VAR, yet again
It seems like it will forever be a major talking point in any big game that it is used in over the foreseeable future, but once more VAR has created its own headlines.
The French players were adamant that they deserved a spot kick when the ball collided with Perisic’s left hand, instantly swarming around the referee and calling for it to be checked.
This is one of the issues of the VAR technology, in that players will now rely on it and will ask for it to be consulted, almost pressuring the match referee to watch the footage and make a decision.
Argentine arbitrator Nestor Pitana, participating in his second World Cup, watched the monitor for what seemed like an eternity, viewing the replay over and over again before ultimately awarding the spot kick.
The problem is not VAR itself, but it is the pressure that it places on the referee to make the call. If there was no video technology, the game moves on without a fuss, maybe there is a debate on social media and in the papers after the match, but that is all.
At the end of the day, different referees, fans and journalists will have different interpretations of the handball rule, of VAR and of its implementation, and being its first use at a World Cup – it is bound for improvements.
Mbappe taking over the game
With four goals at the World Cup as a teenager, PSG’s gem has truly announced himself on the world stage for all to see, and has made his mark as the next big thing in football to follow the steps of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The grace with which he glides through the attacking third with speed, skill and an eye for goal is something that is rarely seen in a footballer so young, but he is quickly changing the game.
His breakout year with Monaco in 2016-17 earned him his mega money transfer to Paris, and alongside Neymar and company, he has continued his development and in no way has he shrunk into the shadow of his high profile teammates.
At 19-years-old, he could well play at the next five World Cups, and if he continues this form in each of them, he will obliterate Miroslav Klose’s scoring record within the next few tournaments.
Already among the elite players in world football at this age, Mbappe is set to rule the sport for years to come.
Croatia hard done by
Zlatko Dalic’s side performed admirably throughout the whole tournament – especially in this final – and were good value to have perhaps won the game on the back of their display, but ultimately lacked the ruthlessness in front of goal that their opponents possessed.
The 4-2 scoreline is far from a true reflection of the complexion of the match, with the Vatreni’s early pressure setting the French on the back foot, an energy that they fed off for the remainder of the contest and continued to utilise to challenge their opponents.
Perisic was superb again as he was against England, while Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic oozed their usual class through the middle of the pitch.
Nobody predicted Croatia reaching the final coming into the tournament, and their emergence as somewhat of a Cinderella story in this competition has been a joy to behold for both fans of the team and for the neutral.
Their expansive, tenacious and high-octane brand of football has been exciting to watch and has been a nightmare for opponents to deal with, showcased in their demolition of Argentina and their battle against the Three Lions in the final four.
The whole country, and indeed all of football, can be proud of their efforts and hold their hands up in appreciation for what Dalic and has team has brought to this installment of the World Cup, and Croatians will hope that this is only the beginning of a golden generation for their national team.
France right the wrongs of the past
20-years since their last major tournament win, Didier Deschamps has delivered for Les Bleus, banishing the demons of past tournaments.
Losing the final of Euro 2016 on home soil was particularly heartbreaking for France, with players suggesting that they came into that contest against Portugal thinking that they game was already won, and ensuring that the same would not happen in this match.
As far as World Cups go, since the devastation of the 2006 final against Italy and the added heartache of icon Zinedine Zidane being sent off, the French failed to reach the knockout stages in 2010 and were bundled out in the last eight during 2014.
The final whistle sparked scenes of jubilation for the team and fans, as a collective sigh of relief has surely been let out after two decades of disappointment.
A fitting way to end the tournament
Six goals in the final, the highest scoring in regular time since 1958, was the perfect way to send off what has been a sensational World Cup.
Russia has been a fantastic host country, with beautiful stadiums and passionate crowds throughout the tournament, in a wonderful showcase of all the things that make the world game so special.
The next installment will be interesting, with confirmation that the tournament in Qatar will run throughout November and December of 2022, but whenever it is held, the World Cup will always captivate and will forever be a monumental event.