It was touted as a moment of redemption and reaffirmation for a French side loaded with its latest generation of superstars. Redemption for losing out in the final of the Euro 2016 as the overwhelming favourites at home, and reaffirmation that this indeed is a side that can match the talent and achievements of the country’s first ever World Champions since 1998.
Two decades later, in a final absolutely unlike any seen at the World Cup stage during this time, France overwhelmed a defiant Croatian side 4-2 to bag their second World Cup title.
This transpired despite Croatia dominating large chunks of the 90 minutes, including the first exchanges where they kept position and ensured that France had to be on guard. This was highlighted by the first yellow card of the match going to an overworked N’Golo Kante in the 26th minute.
But eight minutes before that the scoring had been opened by Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic – only at the wrong end. In a finale, which created history for many reasons, Croatia’s star forward did so for a wrong one, as he became the first ever player to score an own goal in a World Cup final.
Even so, just as it had become evident that France are going to look to neutralise the Croatian attack and deploy a more conservative style of play Ivan Perisic equalised in the 28th minute to reaffirm that his team are willing to slug it out. It was the Croatian midfielder’s sixth goal in the last 12 tournament matches stretching back to the 2014 World Cup.
However, Perisic then made a decisive contribution to the match for the wrong reasons as he handled in the box resulting in the first ever VAR penalty in World Cup history. Antoine Griezmann slotted it seamlessly past Danijel Subasic in the 37th minute to give France a 2-1 lead that they would take into the half-time break.
While Croatia game out with the aggressive intent in the second half as they looked to chase the match, it was Kylian Mbappe who first threatened to score, drawing a crucial save from Subasic in the 52nd minute.
But the match was truly swung in France’s favour in a six-minute sting with two spectacular long-range efforts in the 59th and 65th minute. Pogba made it 3-1 with a left footed drive that was perfectly placed beyond Subasic, with Mbappe almost putting the result beyond doubt as he became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958.
Croatia were give a brief glimmer of hope by Hugo Lloris, more so than the goal scorer Mandzukic who capitalised on a howler by the France captain and goalkeeper in the 69th minute. But that hope gradually died down as the Croats struggled to carve out clear cut openings over the next 20 minutes plus the five generous ones that the fourth official had added.
It wasn’t to be a first ever World Cup winner as Croatia were finally overcome in a tournament that would become the benchmark for their future generations just as the one in 1998 had become for both the finalists tonight. But France joined the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay as multiple time World Cup winners – a status that counts immensely when predictions are being made for future World Cups.
Didier Deschamps completes a memorable double after lifting the 1998 World Cup as the captain, he bagged this one as the coach.
And it was all achieved by a young French side with a core of the likes of Mbappe, Griezmann and Pogba who have many more years of top quality football ahead of them. Mbappe especially has all the makings of being the very best in the world not too far in the future.
Expectations, hence, are with this France side just like they were with the 1998 side, who followed the World Cup win with the Euro 2000 crown. For now though, it’s France’s time to revel in the glory of being the champions of the world.