Jul. 18, 2018
The French are Champions.
Considering the way this World Cup tournament played out, Sunday's Final was just about the proper send off. A young French side; smarting from their Euro Final loss to Portugal at home, was out to take the big trophy this time. A new superstar emerged in the French blue led by a manager that is familiar with World Cup glory.
An experienced, veteran Croatian squad would be the opposition. A team that barely qualified for this tournament, but made a spectacular run through the knockout rounds. France came into this match as the favorite, but Croatia promised to be a stern test in the humid Moscow evening.
Croatia picked up where it left off from the second half of the England match, controlling possession and creating chances. Winger; Ivan Perisic, looked particularly dangerous, slicing through the left side of the French defense. France responded with pressure in the 16th minute. The controversy of the game occurred a couple of minutes later when French forward; Antoine Griezmann, appeared to dive, prompting the referee to call a foul. The ensuing Griezmann free kick skimmed off of the top of Mario Mandzukic's head into the net for the first own goal in World Cup Final history.
This was familiar territory for the Croatians for they have been consistently down a goal throughout the knockout rounds. The rain began to fall after the own goal and the game opened up a bit as both sides created opportunities. At the 28th minute, a Croatian free kick pinballed around the top of the box to Perisic's left foot. He then lazered the ball past Hugo Lloris into the right hand corner of the net for the equalizer.
Five minutes later, France has a corner kick which appeared to skim off Perisic's hand. The referee initially ruled a goal kick, but VAR reviewed the play and overturned the ruling to a penalty kick. Griezmann smashes it past Danijel Subasic for a 2-1 French advantage.
Lightning began to fill the sky as Croatia began to attack the French left side again. By in large, they continued to apply pressure for the remainder of the first half.
Croatia had the advantage in possession; (61 percent), and shots; (7-1) at halftime. But the French had lady luck on their side. The first half provided electricity on the pitch and in the sky.
Croatia started the second half with more of the same, dominating possession through the first 15 minutes. Other than the French young superstar, Kylian Mbappe burning Croatian defender, Domagoj Vida causing a Subasic save, the Croatians were lobbing dangerous crosses and racking up corner kicks. Then a group of idiots stormed the pitch.
French manager; Didier Deschamps, desired a more defensive posture by subbing N'Golo Kante for Steven Nzonzi in the 54th minute. The move seemed to tilt the pitch towards France's favor. Five minutes later, Mbappe made another tear through the Croatian right side, connecting with Paul Pogba. His second bite of the cherry at the top of the box resulted in a two goal French lead.
Space started opening up for the French immediately as a Griezmann chance led to a corner kick. Six minutes after their third goal, French defender, Lucas Hernandez found Mbappe, creates space and beat Subasic, effectively putting a bow on this one.
However, Lloris made a mess out of a goal kick in the 69th minute and Mandzukic was there to toe poke the ball behind him to draw to 4-2.
The remaining 25 minutes of the game didn't contain any serious chances by either team. France closed the game out well after the Lloris mishap. Croatia tried the long crosses but didn't connect on one. Ivan Rakitic had the best chance, rolling one just past the right post in the 78th minute. Shortly thereafter, the Croatians realized their fate.
Croatia was hard done by the 4-2 final score. They outplayed France through large portions of the game, but couldn't finish. The difference was France's ability to finish. Talent such as Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Pogba is a stiff challenge. The 19 year old Mbappe has begun to take the space that Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has occupied for years. The French future is a polar opposite of the Moscow sky Sunday night. They should be the favorite in the 2020 Euros and should be strong in Qatar if the organization keeps it together.
The precipitation teeming down on the French celebration wasn't only for Croatia falling short, but the end to a wonderful month of competition. Hats off to Russia and Vive le France.
Five Stars of the Final...
5. Ivan Perisic
4. Lucas Hernandez
3. Luka Modric
2. Paul Pogba
1. Kylian Mbappe