France's four goals and title win is a testimony to the beauty of their game, but Croatia can hold their heads high
Own goal, controversy, blunder and magic. That was the story of the final of the FIFA World Cup 2018 — a final that would be etched in the minds of football fans the world over for years to come.
It was a final that produced goals aplenty — six of them. It was a final that saw end-to-end action. It saw the craft of Antoinne Griezmann, the pace and guile of the 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, the stout defending of Blaise Matuidi, N'golo Kante and Samuel Umtiti. It saw the resilience of Ivan Perisic, the heart of Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic and the orchestration of Luka Modric. And it saw three stunning strikes. It was dramatic, it was breathless.
But at the end of the day, there had to be a winner and there had to be a loser. And as destiny would have it, France it was in the end that cantered to the world title, beating Croatia 4-2 in Moscow's fantastic Luzhniki Stadium. It was the Le Bleus' second World Cup title, 20 years since two Zinedine Zidane headers and an Emmanuel Petit grounder took them to the summit in their own backyard. Interestingly, it was the year that Mbappe was born. The Paris St Germain marksman who played such a stellar role in France's victory this year.
But you have to feel for Croatia. They had fallen behind and come back into contention time and again in this tournament — against Denmark in the Round of 16, against hosts Russia in the quarter-final and against Engalnd in the semi-final. They won on all those occasions, playing extra time after extra time. They went down to an unfortunate own goal in the 18th minute, but came back through a sublime left-footed strike by Perisic. The Croatian forward held on to a ball near the edge of the French penalty box and unleashed a ferocious shot, finding an angle past Hugo Lloris to perfection.
You really have to feel for Croatia. Just when they were looking like putting the French under a massive amount of pressure, disaster struck. Perisic, having scored a goal at the other end, saw the ball hit his hand inside his own box, as he rose up in a challenge. The referee initially looked to have waved the protesting French players away, before deciding to consult the video assistant referee (VAR). The on-field official saw replay after replay, and decided to award a penalty, splitting the world in half on whether the hand ball was intentional or not, and whether it should have warranted a penalty or not. Griezmann calmly converted from the spot in the 38th minute and that was possibly the turning point in the match.
Croatia came all guns blazing in the second half and threw the kitchen sink at the French. But then they conceded again. Paul Pogba scored a scorcher in the 59th minute as Modric and rest of the Croatians defending seemed to have switched off for a second. Mbappe added another in the 65th minute, establishing himself as the most promising youngster to be wrapping his feet around a football at the moment.
Mandzukic stole a goal off Lloris's feet in the 69th minute, as the French goalkeeper fluffed a clearance, which resulted in a breathless last few minutes. It was a surreal night for Croatia's top striker as he scored for both sides — the first time it had happened in a World Cup final. It was also the first occasion that there was an own goal at the summit clash of the showpiece event. It was the first time that VAR was used in the World Cup final too.
The French, however, held on and ensured that the grief of World Cup 2006 and Euro 2016 is forgotten. Didier Deschamps emulated Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and Mario Zagallo of Brazil to win the World Cup both as a player and coach. Croatia had over 60% ball possession, but France did what was important — score goals.
But as the Croatian tears dissolved in the driving Moscow rain, you had to feel for Croatia — a nation united by hardship and sacrifice and passion for football. Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Co promised much in 1998, but lost to France. Two decades later, it is France again that doused Croatian hopes. France's four goals and title win is a testimony to the beauty of their game, but Croatia can hold their heads high. Even if they had not won the World Cup, they made the world proud. Many felt Croatia deserved to win, for all the hardships they had to undergo as a nation and the way they had fought in this tournament. But what matters in the end is that Modric and his Croatia have won hearts and given us many, many memories to cherish.
Last Updated 10:03 AM IST