World Cup final France 4-2 Croatia: match report
It was fitting that the best World Cup in modern football history should finish with a game as action-packed, controversial and exciting as France versus Croatia on Sunday in Moscow. They were pitted as two opposites; A tired underdog versus an energy-filled favourite. In the end, it was two teams with seemingly no fear of losing and with everything to gain at the Luzhniki.
We were treated to three goals in the first half alone. And we had six by the time it was over. That's more than the last three World Cup finals combined and as many as the last four. It is the first time since 1966 we saw as many goals in the final too.
France opened the scoring when Antoine Griezmann bought himself a free and clipped it towards goal. Mario Mandzukic headed it beyond his own keeper and we were off.
Just 10 minutes later, Ivan Perisic sent a screamer - with the help of a deflection - beyond a sprawling Hugo Lloris as the intensity that both sides started with began to produce results. Zlatko Dalic said his side were still dreaming before the game and they weren't about to let an own goal derail their pursuit of glory. Their supposed destiny could not resist the force of a debatable VAR decision though.
On 38 minutes, we had the game's turning point and one that will be debated long after the champagne has stopped pouring. A corner came in from Griezmann and Ivan Perisic's hand caught the ball. The referee went to VAR and decided it was a penalty. Griezmann stepped up and slotted home to give France a lead they would not relinquish.
In the second half, Croatia started with more intention but France got their third when Paul Pogba scored his first goal of the tournament. He slotted him a left-footed effort when his right-footed chance was blocked back out to him.
Kylian Mbappe made it four with a relatively tame effort from outside the box and at that stage, the tiredness was starting to show in Croatia's legs. The three stints of extra-time, sixty minutes in total, was causing mistakes, unfinished runs and lapses in concentration. France seemed to be getting sharper - all 11 of them except Hugo Lloris, that is.
Mario Mandzukic pulled one back when the keeper made a dog's dinner of a clearance, or non-clearance. He tried to go around the long-legged striker and the Croatian poked it home. Croatia were given hope and Lloris was begging the football god's to speed up the clock.
But France took the sting out of their challenge and wrapped up a convincing World Cup win after an unconvincing run. Regardless of aesthetics or style, Didier Deshcamps' side are the world champions after an incredible summer of football and a World Cup final that will live on in the memory.
World Cup final France 4-2 Croatia live online | live updates
World Cup Final France - Croatia live online: preview
It's the final very few predicted as France take on Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on July 15 at 17:00 CEST. While Croatia might not have been making very much noise before the tournament, they have captured imaginations as the country with a population barely north of four million plays in the biggest game there is in world football. Ivan Rakitic says each of those 4.3 million will be on the pitch with the players on Sunday afternoon. They might not be as star-studded as France but they have endurance and that might cause France problems.
France have a team laden with stars but have not been pushed outside of their comfort zone so far. On their journey to the final, they have not been taken to extra-time and that might prove a curse or a blessing against Croatia. Have the got the mettle to really scrap it out? Or have they been keeping their opponents at arm's length because of how good they are and can they do the same again.
These questions and plenty more will be answered come Sunday night. It is the first time since Zinedine Zidane's headbutt against Italy that France have made it to the final of the World Cup and it has been two decades since they won it on home soil in 1998. They got to the final of the Euros two summers ago and have been building steadily ever since. Blaise Matuidi missed the quarter-final against Uruguay never looked as complete as they did against, say, Belgium, after he returned. He suffereed a ribs injury against Belgium but should be okay to play in the final but if he does continue to struggle with that knock, it would be a massive blow to Deschamps' template.
Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann could catch Harry Kane for the winner of the Golden Boot and they are both on three goals each. The two are battling for a potential play of the tournament award too. Mbappe's pace and exquisite attacking play has seen him captivate the world and at 19, it has been something to behold. Griezmann's more practical displays have split opinion but they are no doubt impressive given he is moonlighting as a midfielder. He is not concerned with his own role and the sacrifice it takes as he explained in the press conference before the game.
Mario Mandzukic says Croatia reaching the World Cup final is "a mircale" and their attempts to play the underdogs has caused Blaise Matuidi to call b*llshit on claims that they will be tired.
Croatia are driven by their midfield but the class they possess in that area sometimes overshadows just how functional and important their attack players are. Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic, Ante Rebic and whoever manager Zltako Dalic plays to fill out his midfield and and attacking six whether it be extra midfielder Marcelo Brozovic or Andrej Kramaric, they have done well. The flexibility Dalic has shown in his team selection and approach has been important they have plenty more talent on the bench including Real Madrid's Mateo Kovacic. Dalic will have to call upon some of his bench players on Sunday as Ivan Perisic could miss out due to a muscle injury and Ivan Strinic also went off in the semi-final against England.
The manager, who was only called up as a last minute replacement in October 2017 to save the country's qualifying campaign. He is fending off rumours of interest from the Premier League but if he can mastermind a victory over France in the World Cup final, he might be offered a role as the patron saint of Croatia in the coming weeks.
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