#WorldCupAtHome: Les Bleus get a second star

  • #WorldCupAtHome series concludes with Final of last World Cup
  • Led by tournament Golden Ball winner Luka Modric, Croatia acquitted themselves admirably
  • Les Bleus lift World Cup for second time in their history

When Croatia and France lined up in the tunnel of the Luzhniki Stadium on 15 July 2018 for the Final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, Les Bleus were hoping to add a second star to their jersey and draw level with Argentina and Uruguay, while the Vatreni were aiming to become only the ninth country to taste World Cup glory.

The summary

France 4-2 Croatia

15 July 2018 | Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Goalscorers: France : Mario Mandzukic (18’ og), Antoine Griezmann (38’ pen), Paul Pogba (59’), Kylian Mbappe (65’) | Croatia : Ivan Perisic (28’), Mario Mandzukic (69’)

Line-ups:
France: Hugo Lloris (c) – Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez – Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante (Steven Nzonzi, 55’), Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi (Corentin Tolisso, 73’)- Olivier Giroud (Nabil Fekir, 81’)

Croatia: Danijel Subasic – Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic (Marko Pjaca, 81’) – Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ante Rebic (Andrej Kramaric, 71’), Luka Modric (c), Ivan Perisic – Mario Mandzukic

The stakes

Exactly 20 years and one week after the 1998 FIFA World Cup semi-final, in which France came from behind to beat Croatia 2-1, the two teams met again, this time in the Final.

En route, Les Blues had struggled somewhat during the group stage, managing a late victory against Australia, a one-goal win over Peru and a draw with Denmark. Winning a crazy seven-goal thriller against Argentina in the Round of 16 gave real impetus to Didier Deschamps’ men, who then disposed of Uruguay and Belgium.

Croatia, in contrast, had hit the ground running. Flawless during the group stage, where their wins included a 3-0 defeat of Argentina, they found the going much tougher in the latter stages. After requiring penalties to get past Denmark and Russia, England then took them to extra time in the semi-final. As a result, Zlatko Dalic’s men had played 90 minutes more than their French counterparts heading into the Final.

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
© Getty Images

The story

N’Golo Kante ill: The French midfielder had shone all tournament only to come down with gastroenteritis on the day of the final. Deschamps started him nonetheless, but his sub-standard performance caused France to struggle. Ten minutes into the second half, he made way for defensive midfielder Steven Nzonzi, who made an immediate impression by shutting down wave after wave of Croatian attacks.

Twists of fate: The extraordinary strokes of misfortune that peppered this game made it anything but a typical final. The opening goal came from the head of Mario Mandzukic – but unfortunately into his own net for what was the first ever own goal in a World Cup decider. Then Ivan Perisic equalised with a superb strike only to undo his good work by handling in the box, allowing Griezmann to score from the spot. The final twist came with France 4-1 up, when Lloris failed in an attempt to dribble out of the box, gifting a goal to Mandzukic.

Goals from distance: So rare is it to see a goal scored from outside the area in a World Cup Final, that Marco Tardelli’s iconic strike at Spain 1982 was the last time it had happened. Yet on this crazy Moscow night, in the pouring rain, both Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe found the target from beyond the 18-yard line.

Kylian Mbappe of France celebrates with the World Cup 
© Getty Images

The star

Mbappe was the youngest player in the French squad and the only one not born when Les Bleus were first crowned world champions in 1998. In the Final, he all but secured victory by scoring the goal that put his side three goals clear. In doing so, he became the second youngest player in history to score in a World Cup Final, 60 years after Pele.

What they said

“We didn’t play that great but showed a lot of mental qualities. And despite that, we still scored four goals! We deserved it, and I’m delighted for this group. We’ve come a long way and it hasn’t always been easy. [We got there] through hard work and attention…”
Didier Deschamps, France coach (TF1)

“I was on the bench for the last ten minutes. None of us there wanted to celebrate too early. Then when the final whistle sounded, I just ran everywhere. I took Adil Rami in my arms, then I broke down and cried. It’s a boyhood dream.”
Olivier Giroud, France forward

“The feeling right now is bittersweet. We’re proud of what we did, but a little sad to lose the final. Even though I think we deserved better, we can’t change anything. We can only be proud of what we did – we never gave up and fought till the end.”
Luka Modric, Croatia captain

France v Croatia - General view inside the stadium as France celebrate with the World Cup Trophy following their sides victory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia
© Getty Images

What happened next

Though unquestionably disappointed, the Croatians found a measure of consolation a few days later on their return to Zagreb, where jubilant crowds gave them a heroes’ welcome for achieving their country’s best performance at a World Cup. Modric, who won the adidas Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player, would also be named The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2018 a few months later.

France v Croatia: Paul Pogba of France celebrates victory
© Getty Images

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