World Cup 2018 final: France 4 Croatia 2

Fearsome France rule the roost

Pure delirium for France as they celebrate midfielder Paul Pogba's (No. 6) stunning goal which stretched their lead to 3-1 against Croatia in the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
Pure delirium for France as they celebrate midfielder Paul Pogba's (No. 6) stunning goal which stretched their lead to 3-1 against Croatia in the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.PHOTO: REUTERS
Pure delirium for France as they celebrate midfielder Paul Pogba's (No. 6) stunning goal which stretched their lead to 3-1 against Croatia in the World Cup final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Les Bleus turn on the style to win second World Cup and break the hearts of courageous Croatia

Like the unofficial French anthem by Magic System that blared through the speakers, there was truly magic in the air in the Luzhniki Stadium last night.

France were trumped in almost every statistical department - shots attempted, corners won, number of passes and possession.

But Les Bleus triumphed in the one statistic that mattered most - goals - as they beat Croatia 4-2 for their second World Cup.

In front of 78,011 fans inside the arena and more than a billion viewers globally, this World Cup final ebbed and flowed from end to end in a way that has not been seen in recent deciders.

There were no goals after 90 minutes in the last two finals and you have to go back to 1966 for the last time there were at least six goals scored in a final.

This was a fitting finale to an unpredictable World Cup that featured subplots even Russian spy novelists may not have been able to conjure.

Mario Mandzukic, Croatia's match-winner in the semi-final against England, opened the scoring in the 18th minute when he headed into his own goal.

  • 67%

  • Six of the nine goals Croatia have conceded in Russia have come from set pieces. They conceded from two penalties, a throw-in, two indirect free kicks and a direct free kick.

  • 12

  • Goals Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted in 10 knockout games at major tournaments (World Cup and European Championship). That is more than any other French player in the last 50 years, ahead of Zinedine Zidane (eight) and Michel Platini (six).

  • 3rd

  • Didier Deschamps is the third man to win the World Cup as both a player (1998) and as head coach, after Brazil's Mario Zagallo (player: 1958 and 1962, coach: 1970) and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer (player: 1974, coach: 1990).

Ivan Perisic equalised with a delightful left-footer just 10 minutes later but followed his team-mate's hero-turned-villain script when he handled the ball in his own area in the 33rd minute.

Referee Nestor Pitana missed the incident, but awarded a penalty after consultation with the video assistant referee (VAR) - the first time that has happened in a World Cup final.

Antoine Griezmann was as cool as ice as he rolled in the spot kick, wrongfooting Danijel Subasic.

The drama was unrelenting even in the second half and it continued to rain goals following the evening shower.

Four pitch invaders also found a way through less than 10 minutes after the restart and it seemed an eternity before they were removed.

That seemed to break Croatia's concentration after they had again dominated the early exchanges as they had in the first half.

Paul Pogba, who has stepped out of the shadow of his Manchester United imposter in Russia to boss the midfield alongside N'Golo Kante, beat Subasic with a long-range effort in the 59th minute.

The mercurial Kylian Mbappe, 19, followed suit six minutes later and became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele in 1958.

There was still time for Hugo Lloris to raise Croatia's hopes with a 69th-minute howler when the usually reliable French goalkeeper failed to dribble past Mandzukic and the ball trickled into the net.

But Didier Deschamps' team did just enough to get the job done against opponents who must have felt the effects of playing 450 minutes in 15 days.

With a population of only 4.2 million, Croatia have every reason to feel hard done by after winning admirers - most neutrals in the stadium were heard chanting "Hrvatska" - with their fairy-tale run and defiant brand of attacking football.

But France have proved their greatness throughout this victorious campaign by stepping up a gear whenever the need arose.

Deschamps, written off as a dull player and coach even though he now joins an elite club - alongside German Franz Beckenbauer and Brazilian Mario Zagallo - to have won the World Cup in both capacities, deserves credit for managing a billion-dollar squad and convincing them to work together for the greater good.

This was best exemplified by Mbappe, the star who has arrived and perhaps the only one given true freedom in the 4-2-3-1 system, setting the tone as early as the eighth minute when he tracked back to tackle Croatian left-back Ivan Strinic.

Time and again during this Cup, the inconsequential 0-0 group-stage draw against Denmark notwithstanding, their team have delivered when it mattered most.

They were criticised for their workmanlike wins over Uruguay and Belgium in the last two rounds, and there will be those who say they can never compare with the swashbuckling Brazil teams of 1958 and 1970, or even hold a candle to the French class of 1998.

But France are also only the fourth team to score four goals in a World Cup final.

As the players ran into the stands to celebrate with their fans, it was clear that this win had a powerful significance.

It didn't merely exorcise the ghost of their Euro 2016 final defeat by Portugal, it also suggested that they are ready to create a dynasty of their own.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Fearsome France rule the roost'. Print Edition | Subscribe