Fitting finale for France caps a fantastic World Cup

Millions of French soccer fans were delirious with joy on Sunday as France beat Croatia 4-2 to win soccer's World Cup in a pulsating final in Moscow and spark ecstatic scenes from Paris to Marseille, Bordeaux and beyond.
The French team celebrate winning the World Cup for the second time – a day after France marked its National Day and on the 20th anniversary of its maiden World Cup triumph.
The French team celebrate winning the World Cup for the second time – a day after France marked its National Day and on the 20th anniversary of its maiden World Cup triumph. PHOTO: REUTERS

Les Bleus beat first-time finalists Croatia 4-2 to join exclusive club of multiple Cup winners

Just 24 hours after France marked Bastille Day with pomp and pageantry, its footballers produced an even more dazzling show as they captured the World Cup, for the second time.

Les Bleus beat Croatia 4-2 in yesterday's dramatic final to join an exclusive club of multiple winners whose membership is limited to Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Uruguay.

The crowd at the Luzhniki Stadium numbered 78,000, but over a billion people worldwide were treated to an action-packed match. The six goals were the most in a final since 1966 when England beat Germany by the same scoreline.

France took an early lead when Mario Mandzukic inadvertently headed the ball into his own net - the first own goal in a final - before Croatia equalised through Ivan Perisic's well-placed shot.

Perisic became the villain though as he conceded a controversial penalty - for a handball - which was awarded only after a video assistant referee (VAR) review. Frenchman Antoine Griezmann converted the spot kick.

This was the most high-profile example of the impact of VAR, which made its debut at the World Cup. Its intervention led to 11 of the record 29 penalties being awarded.

Second-half goals by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe sealed the win against Croatia, a nation of four million and major underdogs in their first major final.

For France, how fitting this triumph comes a day after its National Day and on the 20th anniversary of its maiden World Cup triumph. That success on home soil, by a multicultural team of "black, blanc, beur" (black, white and Arab) players, shone the spotlight on issues of integration in French society.

The Class of 2018, featuring rising star Mbappe who is of Cameroonian-Algerian descent, is equally diverse - 17 of the 23-man squad are children of first-generation immigrants - and their achievement arrives while France and much of Europe grapple with issues of immigration and race.

Teamwork was a hallmark of this World Cup, with Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain suffering shock defeats by sides with less talent but greater unity.

Even France's victory, for all their individual talents, was built on selflessness and esprit de corps. It is a clear departure from their past troubles that were marked by infighting, mutiny and even a sex-tape scandal involving two players.

Hosts Russia had much to celebrate too. Their team defied the odds to reach the quarter-finals while the country's image, marred by sports doping and political issues, has received a boost for its successful staging of the event.

Fears of racism, hooliganism and terrorism that had clouded the build-up proved unfounded as over a million fans from across the world revelled in the month-long festival. Fifa president Gianni Infantino on Friday called it a "fantastic, incredible, unbelievable World Cup".

A great tournament that saved its best for the last.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Fitting finale for France caps a fantastic World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe