FIFA World Cup 2018: France brings it home after 20 years

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Croatia fought hard for an hour but gradually ran out of steam after playing extra time in their three previous matches.
If football is nothing but 22 men chasing the rawhide sphere, then art is the result of eccentric, observant men and women with a paintbrush and easel and much time to spare, while dance is all about limbs thrown around in random angles that serve no conceivable function.

There is much that meets the eye, but what moves us goes beyond the physical machinations of the artiste.

The game that requires hardly any equipment is played and followed with equal passion. The vagaries of it — much like life — will keep you hooked once you have fallen prey to its charm. The biggest pinnacle of football is held every four years, with the world celebrating as if it’s the second homecoming of Christ.We lacked luck that we had throughout the tournament, says Dalic

Workers put down their tools; armies and guerilla fighters sign a temporary truce as the globe — barring the two sides playing the game — unites, becoming one religion, one tribe celebrating the courage and vigour of the chosen few who fight for the ultimate honour.

Croatia, which has been dogged throughout, started the final in right earnest with its players — essaying their roles and responsibilities — closing in on France early. But this was one battle too many and finally their aching limbs and muscles failed to answer the calls from their head as France slowly exerted control over its tired opponent — which had already played 90 minutes of extra football — to win its second world crown.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris holds the trophy aloft as he celebrates with his teammates after the FIFA World Cup final match against Croatia in Moscow on July 15, 2018. France won the final 4-2.

The Gallic nation looked hardly perturbed with ceding possession (Croatia had over 60% of it in the first half), as it sat deep with even Kylian Mbappe, the fizzy wunderkind, coming with an early intervention to keep out a cross from Ivan Strinic, the high-flying left-back. It was comfortable putting its faith in the pace and decisiveness of its counter-attacks that have held it in good stead and again served it here.

Stroke of luck
France benefited from a stroke of luck in the 18th minute with the World Cup seeing yet another set-piece strike — 69th of this competition — as Mario Mandzukic, with his back to the goal, turned in an innocuous free-kick floated from the right by Antoine Griezmann, who had also drawn in the foul after a rare early French counter.

It was the first own goal of a World Cup final and Croatia was perhaps guilty of defending a little too deep, still trying to organise its back-line after the early round of its breakneck offensive play.

But the Balkan nation, always more lethal when behind in this edition, restored parity with a minute left for the half-hour mark with Ivan Perisic — the tireless pyro that drives this team — besting Hugo Lloris with the most powerful of left-footers from the top of the box.

It was turning out to be an absorbing potboiler when the spotlight fell on referee Nestor Pitana, with the Argentine clearly feeling the pressure of this action-packed finale. He took his time to consult VAR and, rather harshly, adjudged Perisic guilty of deliberately handling the ball inside the box.

French President Emmanuel Macron reacts during the final match between France and Croatia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, July 15, 2018.

Griezmann had no trouble placing his grounder to the right-bottom corner of Danijel Subasic’s goal, with the ’keeper committing early diving to his left.

It was not the ideal situation for the much talked about VAR, with technology getting its first big decision of a World Cup final wrong, creating yet another game-changing controversy that no contest deserves.

Croatia, not daunted by the scoreline or its wretched ill fate, tried to take things in its stride as the second half began. It prodded and pushed, camping a majority of its players in the French half, leaving itself a little vulnerable at the back.

Mbappe, after a pass from Paul Pogba, soon had space to exploit, but Subasic came out strong to narrow the angle and then deflect the shot.

Stroll in the park!
There was a minor distraction as four visitors thought it prudent to take a stroll on the pitch in the middle of a World Cup final.

The stewards, after the initial shock, were quick to react with the players clearly unimpressed with the unwarranted break.

The valiant Croatians were to fall further behind after Pogba — taking matters onto his own feet — scored from his second attempt in the 59th minute after his first shot was blocked.

Finally, it looked like the Croatians were truly broken, the team clearly wrecked by its earlier exhaustions and with no energy left to conjure yet another miraculous escape act.

FIFA World Cup 2018: France brings it home after 20 years
In the 65th minute, the 19-year-old Mbappe — already a star — became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele in 1958 with a well-placed shot from outside the box.

The goals left France a little complacent and skipper Lloris, in the 69th minute, was caught and punished by Mandzukic while trying some unnecessary footwork in the penalty box.

Mercifully for France, and its visiting President Emmanuel Macron in the stands, there were no more hiccups and a second World Cup was secured with Didier Deschamps becoming only the third individual — after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer — to win the trophy both as a player and manager.

Stat attack
1. Mandzukic is the first player to net an own goal in a World Cup final

2. At 19 years and 207 days, Mbappe is the second youngest to score in a World Cup final, after Pele (17 years and 249 days) in 1958

>> Mandzukic is the second player in World Cup history to score a goal and an own goal in a single game afer Ernie Brandts for the Netherlands against Italy in 1978.

3. Deschamps, who captained France to victory in 1998, is the third man to win the World Cup as both player and manager after Mario Zagallo (1958 and 1970) and Franz Beckenbauer (1974 and 1990). Like Deschamps, Beckenbauer too led his nation.

4. A Monaco goalkeeper has ended a losing finalist in each of the last four World Cups: Subasic (2018), Romero (2014), Stekelenburg (2010) and Barthez (2006).

6. France is the sixth team to win multiple World Cups after Brazil (5), Germany/West Germany and Italy (4), Uruguay and Argentina (2).

>> The highest number of goals scored in a final, since 1966 (England 4 beat Germany 2)

11. Griezmann has scored or assisted 11 goals in nine knockout games (World Cup & Euro); more than any other player for France over the last 50 years.

25. The average age of the French side (25 years and 10 months). Only Brazil in 1970 (25 years and 9 months) won the World Cup with a younger squad*

*Counting only the players who played at least one game during the edition.

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