90 minutes have been played. The match has been won. The confetti have flown. The celebrations have happened. The trophy has been lifted. The 2018 FIFA Football World Cup has reached its conclusion and I will review the action of a thrilling finale in this post.
The Final: France vs Croatia
The French came into this game as the favourites. Croatia have shown tremendous team spirit in the tournament and no one can begrudge them their place in the final. This would be a battle between French flair and Croatian graft.
It was the Croats who started off as the better team, attacking the French goal right from the whistle. The French preferred to stay back and soak up the pressure, and their goalkeeper wasn’t really troubled by Croatia in the opening 15 minutes or so, despite the latter having the bulk of the possession. Just after this, France were awarded a free-kick from about 35 yards after Griezman seemed to go down a little easily under a Croatian challenge. The French forward got up and tok the free-kick himself. As luck would have it, the hero of the Semi Final, Mario Mandzukic got a slight touch on the ball which was enough to take it away and above Subasic. France were ahead, mostly against the run of play via the first ever own goal in a World Cup Final! Their lead lasted exactly 10 minutes. Croatia floated in a free-kick from a similar situation as the French had done previously, after three consecutive headers by Croatian attackers and a knockdown from Vida, Perisic took the ball away from Kante, who was closing him down and fired in with a shot across goal from about 15 yards. The teams were level and once again, the Croats had come back from a deficit, just as they have done in every Knockout game so far. Croatia’s joy was short-lived however, as just 5 minutes later, Perisic (football such a cruel game) was adjudged to have handled the ball inside his own box. The referee consulted the replays after being addressed by VAR and awarded the penalty to France. Griezman stepped up and didn’t make any mistake in converting. The French were ahead once again, and again it must be said, against the run of play. Personally, I do believe it was a penalty as Perisic clearly makes a motion of his hand towards the ball, albeit it was more reflex than conscious. However, without VAR, that is penalty decision that would’ve probably never been given. Croatia continued to be the better team for the rest of the half but they couldn’t quite get another breakthrough or trouble the French goalkeeper too much for the rest of it.
The second half too started with Croatia on top. France did start attacking more, exploiting Mbappe’s incredible speed to run behind the Croatian defence. Just before the hour mark, A break down the left by the same Mbappe led to him finding Griezman in the box, who in turn found Pogba on the edge of the area. The midfielder’s shot was blocked on the first attempt. On the second attempt, he curled the ball around Modric, who was trying to close him down, using the Croatian captain as a shield against the goalkeeper, who was blindsided, and was moving the other way, and couldn’t go back to try to save the shot. It was a going to be a huge uphill battle for the underdogs from this point on. Six minutes later, three became four as Mbappe picked up a square ball from Hernandez in the centre of the field. His low bouncing shot beat the goalkeeper and found the bottom corner. France had this won up now and it would take more than a miracle for Croatia to come back. The latter were given a glimmer of hope with 20 minutes to go. Lloris inexplicably spent too much time on a back-pass, allowing Mandzukic to get to close. The Croatian striker got his foot to the ball as Lloris tried to driblle him and the ball rolled into the net to make the scores 4-2! Lloris was lucky this did not happen with the scores level, otherwise the reaction to the incident would’ve been very different. Croatia found some of their deflated spirit returning after this gift and for the next 10 minutes or so looked likely to trouble the French defence again. However, as the game went on, they ran out of ideas and France were able to hold out. As the final whistle, France were confirmed as being the Football World Cup Champions for the second time, 20 years on from their first win.
In the end, the best and most talented team of the tournament won it, with the team living a fairy-tale coming up one step short. Croatia have played the most cohesive and gritty football in the tournament, having earlier put in perhaps the team performance of the tournament in their defeat of Argentina. They showed that they well and truly deserved to be in the final. France go home with the trophy while Croatia go home having won over millions of new fans all over the world. This final truly was a perfect finish to a brilliant tournament, probably the best World Cup in a long time, and definitely the best one I’ve seen, going back to 1998.
Till Qatar in 2022, signing off…