World Cup finals tend to be cagey affairs, with the odd goal separating the sides. This one was anything but a defensive encounter and was befitting of a World Cup that truly had everything: from upsets and high drama to the introduction of technology and the emergence of new stars.
France started the final as overwhelming favourites and lived up to their billing, after getting through to the final matchday unbeaten and without too many problems.
A Mario Mandzukic own goal– the first in a World Cup final – set France on their way in their first-half and although Ivan Perisic cracked in his fifth goal of the tournament to equalise, Les Bleus were soon back on top after Antoine Griezmann converted from the spot. The penalty may have been awarded contentiously via VAR after Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren had handled in the area, but France were in the ascendancy and had stymied the vaunted Croatian midfield.
Croatia pressed forward in search of the equaliser in the second stanza, but it was Les Bleus who found the net through Manchester United dynamo Paul Pogba, and when teenage phenomenon Kylian Mbappe scored on the break, the writing was on the wall at 4-1. The PSG star matched Pele in becoming the only other teenager to score in a final.
French captain Hugo Lloris then gifted Mandzukic with a goal after a terrible error and gave Croatia a glimmer of hope, but the French defence held firm to see their team to a second World Cup title, emulating the heroics of the 1998 squad, who had thumped Brazil 3-0 in Paris to engineer a maiden triumph.
France had started the tournament blessed with an abundance of riches – from Mbappe and Griezmann up front, to Pogba and N’Golo Kante in midfield and Samuel Umtiti and Rafael Varane at the back. Still, manager Didier Deschamps must be given credit for his tactical nous and adapting his team’s style appropriately against the likes of Uruguay, Argentina and Belgium. The French skipper in 1998, Deschamps becomes just the third man to win the World Cup both as a player and a manager.
Croatia can leave the tournament with their heads held high, having been to the final for the first time. The likes of Perisic and captain Luka Modric proved their worth in achieving an incredible feat for a nation of just 4,5 million people.
The only question left is how to handle the terrible withdrawal symptoms – my fingers are trembling as I type this. I guess the only thing to do is to check myself into PSL and Premier League rehab and plan my trip to Qatar in four years’ time.
Bring on 2022!