FIFA World Cup 2018 Final: France 4-2 Croatia, 5 talking points

Didier Deschamps’ men, that is, the French national team managed to overcome Croatia in the final match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and subsequently became the World Champions after their successful run in this tournament. Mario Mandzukic’s scored an own goal before scoring for his side in the second half. Ivan Perisic had earlier grabbed an equalizer. In the midst, Antoine Griezzman, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe registered their name in the scorebooks to strengthen France’s grip over the game. The game oversaw many happening incidents, and here I discuss five of the most noteworthy points from the final.

#5 Mandzukic falters, Perisic recovers:

It was always going to be a cagey opening, and Croatia looked to be on the offensive mood right from the start. Luka Modric shimmered around the box, picking out precise passes and Croatia outnumbered the French midfield. Paul Pogba took some time to get in the groove, but once France grabbed a hold over the proceedings, they looked threatening from every aspect. They moved the ball quickly, with Kylian Mbappe making a couple of outrageous runs down the right to cause havoc and unrest in the Croatian backline.

 Antoine Griezmann was on course to embark on another smart run, but he was brought down by Marcelo Brozovic, amid there was some intent to cleverly win the kick from Griezmann’s perspective too. On the dead ball, the Atletico Madrid forward weaved his beautiful piece of magic as he looped the ball into the box for Raphael Varane. The Real Madrid defender missed the header, but the ball deflected through Mandzukic’s head, resulting into an own goal.

 Croatia didn’t buckle though, and Perisic scored equalized with an excellent finish from his left foot. The entire move started with Modric lifting the free-kick to the right corner of the box, and the Croatian players managed to lay if off for an unmarked Perisic. The Inter Milan winger neutralized Mandzukic’s error quick enough to balance the score line and put Croatia in an even spot yet again.


#4 VAR and its glitches

Ivan Perisic might have been the most revered man in Croatia for some time after his goal, but France got an advantage yet again. Through a corner, Perisic seemed to have handled the ball inside the box and persistent protests from the Frenchmen meant that the referee used the VAR to review the situation. The constantly reviewed incident highlighted Perisic’s handball much more than it should have in the first case.

 It seemed quite unintentional, and the ball was anyways going away from Matuidi. Secondly, the corner delivery had taken a deflection and hence it is anyways quite weird, and equally difficult to prepare for such instances while defending a corner kick. With repeated viewings, the VAR system decided to award France a penalty. However, it was more of a bookish decision. Perisic never intended to handle the ball, and here is where the glitches of using technology come into limelight. Consecutive analysis tends to overturn a decision that would have been accurate in the first place.

Moreover, Griezmann, with all the calmness collected in his head, shot the ball on bottom side, sending Danijel Subasic the wrong way. This goal gave France an excellent lead going into the second half. Croatia were dominant and more threatening in the first half, attacking through the wings with Modric picking out some precise passes from an inside-right position. However, the score line reflected something extremely different to the overall plot of the first 45 minutes.


#3 N’golo Kante’s substitution and the change of tides

For the better part of this tournament, N’golo Kante had been a rock for France in the midfield. He has been a complete engine, someone who has blocked the opposition’s passing lanes and pressed his adversary out of the game owing to his enviable tank of energy. However, today, when he was up against the guile, creativity and robustness of the Croatians, Kante failed to carve his regular impact in the game.

He was run over by the Croatians, and Kante was unable to read the proceedings of the game properly. The Frenchman made a rash challenge, which resulted in him being booked. Eventually, that free-kick led to Croatia’s equalizer and the Chelsea midfielder failed to properly recover thereafter. His lack of aerial prowess mean that Kante was unable to defend against the long balls, and hence Steven N’Zonzi was inducted in the field, just ten minutes into the second half. N’Zonzi used his broad stature and dominated in the air, helping France move ahead through the second balls. It was a good tactical move by Deschamps, and that helped his team to gain more control in the midfield.

Pogba found himself on the attacking front more often after N’Zonzi’s introduction, and that was a brilliant advantage for France. Deschamps showed good quick decision-making ability, as Kante had been an integral member for the team throughout the tournament. However, his lack of concentration and form in the final meant that he deserved to be replaced on the field. Deschamps did deter from doing that. 


#2 Paul Pogba: the Man, the Leader, the Hero of the night

There’s no other footballer who has been as harshly criticized as Paul Pogba in recent times. His enviable abilities on the pitch are often clouded by fancy hairstyles and extravagant celebrations. However, throughout this tournament, one could always sense a bit of maturity, stability in his overall style of play. Pogba has been instructed to sit deeper on the right side of the pitch in recent matches, and has been told to pick Kylian Mbappe on the right wing with some quick through-balls and defence-splitting passes.

Today, he took his time to settle in the game, as Croatia were overwhelming France with constant attacking moves. However, the Manchester United man stayed intact with the instructions, and defended well enough to break Croatia’s attacks in his half. He leaped the quickest to the second balls, and moved France ahead with swift transitions. Pogba completed four tackles, and intercepted the ball twice to stop Croatia’s attacking moves.

He dribbled the ball twice, took two shots and scored an excellent left-footer goal from outside of the box. One can actually witness the evolution in his style of play, the maturity that he transcends nowadays and the temperament that he demonstrated to finish a goal that wasn’t the easiest of the lot. Moreover, the entire French squad looks at him as a leader on the field. When the Frenchmen were struggling initially, Pogba kept a calm head and oversaw the proceedings, gradually carving his mark on the game.

This was the biggest show on earth, and here’s your showstopper. 


#1 Croatia, Deschamps and Mbappe: A final with lots of narratives

Croatia is a country with a population of just over 4 million people. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and the entire squad endured difficult upbringings to their way towards the stardom. While they gained independence only in 1996, the nation stood together due to a unified love towards football and a bunch of players who would leave every ounce of energy and sweat left in them on the field. The Croats were ready to fight right until the end, looking to take up any half-chance so that they can roar their way back in the game. Eventually, substance beat style, and they finished second-best, quite deservingly.

Didier Deschamps was never an attractive player during his playing days. When the people and the pundits were amazed with France’s exuberant playing style, Deschamps was the team’s unsung hero; the defensive midfielder. He was never in the limelight, and despite being an influential leader, his style of play was excessively dull in comparison to his compatriots. Eric Cantona called him a water-carrier of the team, and subsequently there were doubts over his ability to manage France as a coach. His team did not play an attractive style of football for majority of the tournament, and neither did they dominate the game by incessant attacks. Rather, the Frenchmen played professionally, churning out results when it seemed difficult and their best players always stood up whenever required. Eventually, the dull manager provided one of the most high-scoring World Cup finals in recent times.

Kylian Mbappe is only 19 years of age. At his age, people find it difficult to get their Calculus right in 12th grade examinations. However, this lad defied maturity beyond his age, oozed class and confidence, decided his moments and burst into the scene with a sumptuous finish to finish the tournament with four goals to his name. He became only the second player after Pele to score a World Cup goal whilst being a teenager, and any bit of doubt over his character and tenacity would have vanished after an amazing World Cup next to his name. Eventually, he walks away from Russia with the eluded trophy in his hands and the ‘Best Young Player’ medal by his neck.

This might have been a different World Cup, with teams prioritizing defence over attack. The managers stressed on the importance of goals through set pieces and people are arguing that the tournament lacked qualitative football. However, this is the very tournament that has provided the fans with numerous, fascinating subplots and storylines, Croatia’s wonderful run into the World Cup finals being one of them. Try and understand the humane aspect of the game in a better way, and you would actually realize the countless number of beautiful narratives that we have witnessed through this tournament.

Greatest spectacle on earth? I think so.


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