France clinched their second World Cup after the 1998 champion beat a spirited Croatia 4-2 in the grand finale of the greatest show on earth at a jam-packed Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia Sunday. After the 1966 edition in England, the Russia World Cup witnessed the highest scoring final.
The Les Blues got an early lead through a Mario Mandzukic own goal before Antoine Griezmann added the second goal for France in the first half. Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe netted one apiece in the second half for the Les Blues. Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic were on the scoresheet for Croatia.
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic can consider himself unlucky as they conceded an ill-fated own goal early in the tie, and a penalty later on, despite putting on a bright show in the opening half.
On the other hand, France manager Didier Deschamps was elated to say the least following the final whistle as he created history, becoming only the third man in history to win the World Cup as a player, and then as a manager, after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.
Both the managers kept faith with their starting XI as France and Croatia named unchanged sides after former World Cup champion Philipp Lahm of Germany brought the original Fifa World Cup trophy to the field, alongside Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova.
The Vatreni were right on the money from the very first second. Perisic wonderfully dribbled inside the box from the left flank but his shot was cleared by the French defence for a throw in the third minute.
In the fifth minute, Ante Rebic released a ball to Sime Vrsaljko down the right flank. Vrsaljko sent a cross to Mandzukic inside the box but it was cleared by a Samuel Umtiti header.
It was all Croatia till then as three minutes later, Ivan Rakitic from the left side released a dangerous ball towards Ivan Strinic but Mbappe surprisingly got back to defend the ball away for a corner.
Against the run of play however, Croatia, despite playing impressively throughout the first half, blinked first, much like their previous three knockout matches where they conceded the first goal. And it was an unlucky one. Mandzukic’s headed deflection went to their own goalpost, beating goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
The Bayern Munich man jumped to clear a Griezmann free-kick from 40 yards out in the 18th minute only to put through his own net. Griezmann's delivery though was picture perfect as he curled his cross towards the back post.
Five minutes later, Mbappe almost broke through the right flank after Pogba's through pass. But Domagoj Vida was super quick in getting across and making a sliding tackle to clear the danger.
Croatia soon equalised with a superb strike from one of their players of the tournament, Perisic. France failed to clear the danger from a Luka Modric free-kick as Vida flicked the ball towards the winger. Perisic took time and controlled the ball to a position to volley and pulled the trigger with his left foot, drilling his effort past Hugo Lloris.
The Croats however, soon became victims of bad luck again when Argentine referee Nestor Pitana took help from the Video Assistant Referee and awarded France a penalty in the 35th minute. A corner from Griezmann from the right side missed the jump of Blaise Matuidi but the ball unfortunately struck Perisic’s arm. This was a very close decision but Pitana ultimately ruled in favour of France.
Croatia tried their best to come back to the game before half time but a vital block by Pogba denied Dejan Lovren a chance to score.
After the break, the game got more speed with attacks and counter-attacks exchanged between the two finalists. The game was briefly halted in the second half as three fans wearing white dresses invaded the field. The security though soon got into the thick of the action and pulled them off the field.
France made it 3-1 in the 59th minute. Mbappe broke down the right flank and the resulting ball set up Pogba after a deflection. The Manchester United man attempted a shot but his initial effort was blocked by Vida. The rebound fell kindly at the feet of Pogba and this time around, he got more time before unleashing a left footer that found the top corner, beating a diving Subasic.
Six minutes later, Mbappe almost sealed the game from outside the box. The PSG lad and the 2018 Fifa World Cup’s best young player received the ball after good work by Lucas Hernandez from the left flank. From 25 yards, Mbappe hit a low shot that avoided a block from Vida, as well as Subasic, sparking wild celebrations in the France dugout.
The Croats pulled one back in unconventional fashion just four minutes later. And it was none other than Les Blues captain Lloris who was to be blamed. The Tottenham Hotspur keeper received a long pass from Umtiti but allowed Mandzukic to make an interception. That fumble enabled Mandzukic to react instantly and score for his team.
Croatia got several chances in the remainder of the game but failed to reduce the arrears. Attempts by the Croatian players, including Modric, did not find the net and France were resolute enough to hold onto their two-goal lead.
The Russia World Cup is the first edition to be settled in normal time since 2002.