World Cup 2018: Recap of a historic final

Twenty years after winning their first title on home soil, The French national team was once again crowned world champions over Croatia in an electrifying 4-2 win against the European underdogs. French manager completed the elusive double of winning the World Cup as both captain and manager – becoming only the third person to do so in history. This was easily amongst the most memorable World Cup finals. Both teams were cagey at kickoff, but the game was full of flair and drama. An own goal, a goalkeeping blunder, a teenage sensation and a pitch invasion; Moscow was witness to it all. A penalty-kick from Griezmann and goals from Pogba and Mbappe were sufficient to hold back Croatia as one of the pre-tournament favorites were able to lift the title in the soaking Moscow conditions. Their run started with wins over Australia and Peru in the group stages before the subdued Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium in the knockout stages before taking home the World Cup against Croatia.

It did not take long before the floodgates opened. Croatia saw much of the ball for the opening 15 minutes of play and looked to threaten Lloris in goal. In one of their earliest attacks, Griezmann was able to draw a foul in a dangerous positon and the resultant free kick lead to Mario Mandzukic gifting Les Bleus an own goal and the lead 18 minutes into the game. His header made him the first player in World Cup history to score an own goal in the final. He added to the already 20 own goals scored in Russia, well over double the number scored in Brazil 2014.

Croatia did not back down and were tasked with once again making a comeback from a goal down – a theme in each of their games of the knockout stages. They continued to force France deep into their own half as they aimed to penetrate the French backline. 10 minutes going down by a goal, they capped off their run of play with a set piece that ended with a superb strike by Perisic. This was his fourth goal of the tournament and his best by far, joining the likes of Nacho and Pavard in contention for goal of the tournament. Pressures of the final did not get to Perisic and he shined throughout Croatia’s run through their run in Russia.

VAR did not favor with the underdogs and it was all downhill for Croatia after Perisic’s equalizer. A handball on Perisic was not initially called but after using the video assistant referee, Griezmann was handed the spot kick and once again gave France the lead in the 38th minute. The language regarding what constitutes a handball in ambiguous and open to interpretation. Handballs have been called for less in the penalty box and given how officials have given calls, it is safe to say that the referees got it right.  It was the first time that VAR was to be used in a World Cup final, and boy did it have a massive impact on the game.

The start of the second half was a reflection of the opening minutes of the first period of play. Croatia dominated the ball though once again, they were unable to break down the French lines. The third goal for France came in the 59th minute after a period of Croatian control Paul Pogba was able to find Mbappe on the break and he ultimately finished the play with a left footed goal. His shot from distance made him the first Manchester United player to score in the World Cup final and to score whilst playing in the Premier League since Emmanuel Petit in 1998. The 25-year-old midfielder announced himself on the biggest stage.
 

Croatia have trailed in every knockout game of this tournament and have always dug deep to grind out results. France simply proved to be too potent on their day and were able to extend their lead time and again to put the game to bed. Croatia simply could not find the creativity nor the killer pass to bring them back in the game. Instead, Mbappe joined Pele as the only teenagers to score in a World Cup final. The young forward made it 4 – 1 with an excellent strike from just inside the box with 25 minutes left in the game. They were able to rally back and reduce the deficit down to 2 goals after a goalkeeping back by Lloris that Mandzukic capitalized on. This put life back into the Croatian spirits though this was too little too late for the nation of 4 million.  

As if the events of the match were not enough, a pitch invasion occurred during the second half of the final. Four spectators ran onto the pitch before security was able to stop them and drag out of the pitch. Safety is always a concern for everyone involved but the assholes who disrupted the game were quickly dealt with and play was able to continue.

Deschamps joined the company of Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer as the only men to have won the World Cup as both player and as a manager. Zagallo was part of the Brazil side that won the 1958 World Cup as player and led them to the 1978 World Cup as manager. Beckenbauer captained West Germany to victory in 1974 and coached them to the status of world champions in 1990.   

France joined the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, and Uruguay as the only nations to have won the tournament at least two times. France also joined the heralded 1970 Brazil side to score 4 goals in a World Cup final. This iteration of Les Bleus may not of have shown the flair and excitement expected of this talented side, though they got the job done and are now world champions.

In the end, destiny called upon France while it was heartbreak for the Croats. The nation was formed in the early 90’s and made their first final. They have often taken the role of being the dark horse in previous tournaments and have always been underwhelming. This Croatian side is truly special as their players are pivotal members of some of the most elite club teams in Europe. They triumphed over the group of Death with the demolishing of Argentina being their highlight of the group stages. They fell behind in each of their knockout games but rallied back each time to book a place in Moscow. Once again their opponents grabbed the lead and it was one time too many for Croatia. The leave Russia as heroes who will be forever remembered for this Cinderella run to a first World Cup final. There can only be one winner, and France thoroughly deserve to call themselves World Champions. Unlike the Spanish side of 2010 or the German team that triumphed in Brazil; calling this group of players the beginning of a dynasty is a hard pill to swallow. That being said, the likes of Mbappe, Pogba, Varane and Umtiti are yet to truly hit their prime which makes France contending side for years to come. They stepped up to the occasion when called upon and delivered when it mattered the most. France, are the 2018 World Cup champions.

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