Moscow: A surreal final, a final that bordered on the brink of incredulity. An own goal, a goalkeeping howler, a VAR influenced penalty and three world class strikes. That in a nutshell aptly describes the 2018 World Cup which France won beating Croatia 4-2 at the Luzhniki Stadium here Sunday.
An own goal by Mario Manzukic put France ahead 1-0. After Ivan Perisic had struck a beautiful equaliser for the Croatians, he was guilty of conceding a penalty handling an Antoine Griezmann free-kick. Referee Nestor Pitana of Argentina after consultation with the VAR officials and himself reviewing the situation on the on ground screen awarded a penalty to France which Griezmann himself converted beating Danijel Subasic to his left. France went into half time 2-1 ahead.
Like they did at the start of the game, Croatia looked threatening in the first 20 minutes of the second. Then for the first time in the game, the brilliance of Kylian Mbpappe surfaced. First he provided the perfect ball for Griezmann to lay down the ball on the edge of the box for Paul Pogba. The midfielder who had an indifferent first session, first had his right-footed shot blocked by a Croatian defender, but he scored picking up the rebound and hitting a perfect left-footer that gave Subasic no chance. Mbappe then got a goal himself as Lucal Hernandez found him on top of the box and the marauding forward made no mistake. It was 4-1 and the writing was on the wall.
But France keeper Hugo Lloris who had so far had a brilliant tournament then conceded a foolish goal as he held on to the ball for Mandzukic to score on the rebound. However, that was how far Croatia got
Amid all this celebration, one must remember the tactical astuteness of the man who made it possible… France coach Didier Deschamps. In the first half even though France led, Croatia looked more threatening. The surging runs of the wing-backs Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic on both flanks in the first half had caused France enough problems. Deschamps after the interval decided to give Croatia a taste of their own medicine. He asked right-back Benjamin Pavard and left-back Hernandez to don their attacking coats. When that happened, Croatia were completely caught napping and two deadly runs one from the right and the other from the left ended Croatia’s dreams. It was a superb tactical ploy cleared the passage for France to their second World Cup title win after 20 years. The first time they had won the Cup was in 1998 when Zinedine Zidane scored twice in a 3-0 defeat of Brazil.
France won because of the outstanding performance of their two central defenders Samuel Umtiti and Rapahel Varane – they were outstanding in handling the aerial ball. Croatia lost because skipper Luka Modric was not in his ebullient best. No he did not put a foot wrong, his passes always found their men, his crosses were incisive, but he lacked the flair which made him the best midfielder in this World Cup. Modric played from too deep down inside his own territory and hence failed to construe up the same pressure that he has on the opposition defence.
Croatian had more of the ball, more shots on goal, ran more, looked more dangerous. But as the saying goes, France never lose when Griezmann scores.
That turned out to be the telling truth.