By Michael Pavitt |
France clinched its second FIFA World Cup crown by beating Croatia 4-2 in a highly entertaining final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.
French coach Didier Deschamps hoped to guide his side to the trophy, 20-years on from having lifted the World Cup afloat as a player in Paris.
It was underdogs Croatia who began the brighter of the two teams, as they sought to claim their country’s maiden World Cup crown.
They would feel hard done by when Mario Mandzukic, hero of their semi-final victory over England, became the first player in history to score an own goal in the showpiece occasion.
The forward, back defending a free kick, was only able to glance a header beyond his goalkeeper Danijel Subasic from Antoine Griezmann’s 18th minute free kick.
Croatia had bounced back from a goal down in each of their knock-out matches at the tournament and they showed their resilience once more.
The impressive Ivan Perisic levelled 10 minutes later after France were unable to clear a free kick.
The midfielder skillfully passed N’Golo Kante on the edge of the area, before firing a left footed shot into the net with the aid of a slight deflection.
Debate over the introduction of Video Assistant Relays (VAR) had raged in the build-up to the tournament and its debut in the final was marked by a controversial incident.
France claimed Croatia’s goalscorer Perisic had handled from a corner as half-time approached, with the referee ultimately encouraged to examine the replay by his assistants.
After watching a replay by the side of the pitch, referee Nestor Pitana awarded the first VAR assisted penalty in a FIFA World Cup final.
Griezmann would calmly roll his penalty beyond Subasic to give France a half-time lead.
Aggrieved and desperate to restore parity, Croatia began the second half with intent.
Intent was also shown by four pitch invaders in the 52nd minute, with the quartet appearing to be wearing old police uniforms.
One pitch invader was pictured high fiving French forward Kylian Mbappe.
The punk rock band Pussy Riot, who rose to prominence with a series of public protests against the Russian Government in 2012, claimed responsibility for the incident which took place in front of the watching Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a statement the group called for freeing of political prisoners in the country, as well as ending “illegal arrests” of protesters.
They called for “political competition” to be allowed.
Following the delay, the match resumed, with France taking a giant step towards their second title.
Paul Pogba began a swift French attack with a raking pass and ultimately finished the move in the 59th minute, scoring a well placed shot past the static Subasic at the second attempt from the edge of the Croatia box.
Much of the pre-match focus had been on France’s teenage star Mbappe and the forward delivered a crucial blow to Croatian hopes of a comeback.
The 19-year-old became the first teenager since the great Brazil’s Pele in 1958 to score in a World Cup final, as his long-range right foot drive found the corner of the Croatian net six minutes after Pogba’s effort.
An eventful final took another bizarre turn, as French captain Hugo Lloris gifted Croatia a potential platform to mount a comeback.
With no perceived threat, the goalkeeper tried to dribble past Mandzukic, only to see the striker tackle him.
The ball ultimately trickled into the French net to see Mandzukic join Perisic on the scoresheet, going some way to making amends for the pair’s involvement in France’s opening two goals.
While Lloris’ error would no doubt cause some embarrassment, the French captain would ultimately lift the World Cup, as his team held on to seal a memorable 4-2 victory.
He became the second Frenchman to lift the trophy after Deschamps, who is now the third to have won the World Cup as both a player and manager after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.
Individual awards were presented prior to the trophy presentation, held in pouring rain in the stadium.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Putin and his French and Croatia counterparts Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović were among the presentation.
Mbappe was presented with the best young player award, with Croatia’s captain Luke Modric winning the Golden Ball for the tournament’s overall best player.
The absent Harry Kane of England and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois won the top goalscorer and best goalkeeper prizes, respectively.
France, though, had the ultimate honour of claiming the World Cup crown.
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.