From the off, it was Croatia who started to dominate proceedings. Wee Luka Modric put an early boot in on big Samuel Umtiti early doors, just letting him know he’s there, kind of thing. France have been a defensive team throughout, rarely starting games on the front foot but the suspicion was that such a strategy would be denied them, even if they wanted to, such was the aggression and intent of Croatia. They harried and hassled the favourites, never letting them settle and really put France under the cosh. For those who had backed Croatia, things were looking promising.
Then, with 17 minutes on the clock, France were awarded a free kick just outside the box. Croatia were incensed as there was little-to-no contact on Antoine Griezmann but the forward went down all the same and the referee was insistent that a foul had been committed. Griezmann swung it in from the right with his left boot and Mario Mandzukic rose to meet it but unfortunately only managed to put it past his own ‘keeper and all of a sudden, France had the lead.
The goal was very much against the run of play as Croatia had been the dominant team. There followed a spell of scrappy play from both sides: Croatia rattled as a result of conceding the goal whereas France had yet to work their way into the game at all, even allowing for their goal. It was Croatia who settled first and began to dominate yet again. Eventually, their pro-active stance paid off for them. France conceded a free kick and what followed was, as they say, straight off the training ground. Modric whipped it to the back post whereupon it was headed back across before it was laid off to Ivan Perisic. The winger took it down, shifted it to his left foot before striking it through a crowd of players to even matters on the scoreboard.
It was the least that Croatia deserved and they continued to press France but it appeared that the footballing gods were dead set against them. From a France corner, Perisic cleared at the front post but France’s players wheeled around, hitting their arms as they ran toward the referee, indicating that they thought an infraction had occurred. The referee obviously got a word in his ear because he called a halt to play and went to check the monitors before turning around and indicating that he was awarding a penalty for handball. It was a shame that VAR had intervened for this event whereas it hadn’t done so for France’s first goal where Paul Pogba appeared to be marginally offside when the free kick came in. Naturally, France couldn’t have cared less about the fairness or otherwise of the decision as long as it fell their way. Antoine Griezmaan stepped up and coolly dispatched the penalty, sending Subasic the wrong way.
Going in at half-time, France were leading 2-1 but hardly deserving of it. They were defensively dour and rarely threatened Croatia at all; even Kylian Mbappe was effectively anonymous and Ngolo Kante looked, for nearly the first time in his career, like an average player. Croatia must have felt that a terrible injustice had been inflicted upon them as, if football was ‘fair’, it would be they who held the lead.
Pogba and Mbappe Put Result Beyond Doubt in Second Half
Minutes into the second half, Mbappe was released down the right wing and quite predictably, skinned Vida as he sped into the box. Subasic managed to save the shot and play moved back up the pitch. It was then that the pitch invaders invader’s arrived. It transpired that it was the anarcho-punk collective, Pussy Riot, and the ease with which they got by the stewards must have been a sore point for Croatia as they were having little luck in their own battle with the French rearguard.
With just over half an hour to play, France struck. Mbappe, yet again, caused upset in the box and when he released it, the ball made its way to Griezmann who fed Pogba on the edge of the box. His first shot with his right was blocked but the rebound fooled everyone, apart from Pogba that is. The midfielder, using Modric as a shield, curled it past him with his left and into the Croatia net. It looked for all the world that Croatia were sunk but, sadly for them, the scuttling of their ship wasn’t quite done. France were growing in confidence and, with Croatia pressing so high up, there was plenty of space for them to attack. It was during one of these forays that the ball was fed inside to Mbappe and, with the forward outside the box being faced up by Vida, he gave the eyes the one way and struck the other. The defender wasn’t the only player caught flat-footed as Subasic watched the ball fly past him to his right. At 4-1, that appeared to very much that.
Croatia, for all their efforts and endeavour, were on the wrong end of a heavy score line; it would be inconceivable were they not to feel bereft. But Fortune decided to throw them a bone and it a most comical manner too. A straightforward back pass was played to Lloris and with Mandzukic bearing down on him, the ‘keeper decided to, with the ball at his feet, fool his man by turning him inside. Mandzukic, the wily old fox that he is, didn’t fall for it and stuck a boot out to direct the ball into the back of the net. With 20 minutes left to play, Croatia had the sniff of hope wafting into their nostrils.
They attacked and attacked but they could do nothing to break through France’s greatest strength – their defence. It wasn’t just that their defenders cleared and repelled each and everything that came their way but their midfield closed down the passing lines and kept tight to their men in an incredibly disciplined display. Desperation was writ large on the face of Modric et al as the clock continued its march but France weren’t for turning. Croatia ran out of road and the referee blew up for full time.
France fell to their knees, the newly crowned World Champions watering the pitch in Moscow with their tears of joy. Croatia were emotionally and physically shattered, destroyed and distraught. They may feel a sense of lingering injustice as a result of the two goals they conceded in the first half but there is no turning the clock back and the result will stand. They played their part in what was an excellent final, a fitting conclusion to what was an outstanding World Cup. For four weeks, we’ve been treated to more excitement and fun than anyone thought likely. We were introduced to VAR and although confusion still lingers about its application, on the whole, it got more right than wrong and added to the drama. In the end, France emerged as the best team in the world and it’s hard to argue against it.
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- World Cup Final