After 20 years, France, Sunday, caught world attention and bathed again in the euphoria of World Cup glory.
France overwhelmed Croatia in Russia to clinch their second FIFA World Cup, winning 4-2.
The first was on home soil in 1998.
This time, French President Emmanuel Macron was on hand at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium to take the trophy back to Paris, where a football fever has gripped the residents.
They have won the World Cup for the second time, and the first time for 20 years, with coach Didier Deschamps becoming only the third man ever to take the trophy as a player and a coach after Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo.
And that is exalted company while Deschamps will feel utterly vindicated in overhauling his squad after the disappointingly losing the Euro 2016 final and also determinedly going for a more pragmatic style which demanded greater discipline from the likes of Paul Pogba and compromising some of France’s attacking flair. That debate does not matter amid the celebrations.
France are champions, and deservedly so as they were the best team and the most efficient team at what was probably the best ever World Cup, but this was a final marked by controversy, firsts, brilliant interventions and blunders as the incredible resilience and belief of Croatia was finally defeated.
According to The UK Telegraph, there was thunder and lightning with heavy clouds ringing the Luzhniki Stadium here in Moscow as France scored from a free-kick that they should not have earned and a penalty for handball that was evidently not a clear and obvious error to give them a half-time advantage that was a travesty.
Even so for almost an hour Croatia were the better team, by far the better team, before first Pogba – thereby becoming the first Manchester United player to score in a World Cup Final – and then Kylian Mbappe scored. Mbappe, at 19, became the first teenager since Pele to strike in a World Cup Final. The score line then was 5-2 and this was the joint highest score since – aided by a terrible goalkeeping mistake by Hugo Lloris who gifted Croatia their second goal as he attempted to play the ball around the relentless Mario Mandzukic who stuck out a leg and diverted it into the net.
That gave Croatia hope when it seemed hope had gone and surely the tiredness and pain of going to extra-time, and twice to penalties, in all three of their previous knock-out ties at this World Cup would finally catch up on them. But they never, ever gave up in what was their first final and one that they can look back upon with remarkable pride at the achievement.
Antoine Griezmann had been involved in both of France’s first-half goals as he cheaply won the free-kick – it appeared like a dive and Marcelo Brozovic was furious – which he swung in. The ball skimmed off the head off Mandzukic and flew beyond goalkeeper Danijel Subasic. Even then there was drama as it appeared Pogba had been in an offside position as he challenged Mandzukic who scored the first ever own goal in a World Cup Final.
Mandzukic scored an own goal to give France the lead.
That was as nothing to the controversy with France’s second goal which came from a hotly-disputed, VAR encouraged penalty. It came from a near post Griezmann corner which flew over Blaise Matuidi and struck the left hand of his marker Ivan Perisic who was close behind him. Referee Nestor Pitana bizarrely gave a goal-kick but the French players, led by Lucas Hernandez and Olivier Giroud, angrily demanded a penalty.
Pitana was eventually told by the VAR, Italian Massimiliano Irrati, to review it and ran over to the touchline. It seemed an eternity but he finally returned, pointing to the spot with Griezmann calmly stroking the ball home. It seemed harsh – Perisic did not attempt to move his hand, could not see the ball – but Croatia were behind again.
They had drawn level. From a free-kick Luka Modric arrowed the ball to the right of the penalty area where it was headed back across by Sime Vrasaljko. It was flicked on and then again and then flicked back, with his boot, by Domagoj Vida to Perisic who deftly pushed it away from N’Golo Kante and drilled a superb powerful left-foot shot beyond Lloris.
Kante, who later went off injured and appeared out-of-sorts, had just been booked, in conceding the free-kick, and appeared to hesitate as Perisic collected possession. It was the fourth knock-out game in which Croatia had gone behind only to equalise.
Pogba started and ended the move for his second-half goal which extended France’s lead with a raking pass out to Mbappe who sped into the area and cut the ball back to Griezmann. Pogba had eaten up the yards and Griezmann cushioned the pass. His first shot with his right-foot was blocked but he arced the rebound left-footed around Modric and with Subasic unsighted the net billowed.
Mbappe saved the best to last.Hernandez ran down the left and turned the ball inside to Mbappe. With Vida standing off the forward brilliantly disguised his shot to strike it low and into the corner. The World Cup was France’s.