France claim second World Cup as Croatia fight to the end
Didier Deschamps adds coaching honours after lifting trophy on home soil in 1998
Olivier Giroud lifts the World Cup trophy as thre french players celebrate their World Cup final win over Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters
France 4 Croatia 2
Their style may not be to everyone’s taste but there is substance to this France team who earned their right here to be ranked alongside the class of 1998. Having captained that side, Didier Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as both player and coach but the victory may be more commonly remembered for the contributions of stars like Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé.
The 19-year-old did not quite steal the show the way so many had hoped or expected but with the score standing at 2-1 10 minutes or so after the break he did perhaps help to illustrate the contrasting levels of tension within the two sides when four protesters, apparently linked to Pussy Riot, invaded the pitch. Dejan Lovren grabbed one in an effort to speed their removal while a few feet away Mbappé casually high fived another.
Croatia will count themselves unlucky over the manner of their defeat and again emerged with enormous credit. They dominated the first half, then battled bravely through the latter part of the second when, as they fell further behind and the prospect of victory became remote, the life might reasonably have drained out of legs that had worked so hard just to get them here.
A couple of the decisions made by Argentinean referee Nestor Pitana early on will surely rankle among their supporters but the game will be more fondly remembered in France for the second half goals scored by Pogba and his teenage team-mate.
They made it 4-1 to the favourites and though Mario Mandzukic gave his side a tiny glimmer of hope by scoring after a terrible error by Hugo Lloris, there was, realistically, never going to be a way back from that against a France side that had steadied itself after a shaky start and was suddenly asserting its power.
The early pattern of the game was much as had been expected; just more so. The Croatians played almost of the football while the French looked to contain them while waiting for an opportunity to hit them on the break.
It didn’t go especially well for Deschamps’s side, who were far less composed around their own area than they had been in their previous knockout encounters. Almost every time their opponents pushed forward they looked a threat. Both of the young French full backs, each earning their 12th senior cap here, were tested severely as Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic pushed up either side of Mandzukic, while Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti looked less settled in the centre with their uncertainty gradually infecting their captain and goalkeeper Lloris.
They were still in front at the break; helped by a soft free and borderline offside decision which both contributed to their first goal, as well as what looked a harsh penalty for handball, awarded only when the referee had taken the time to review the contact made by Perisic and concluded it had been deliberate.
Both were taken by Griezmann and while he didn’t need any assistance to convert the spot kick, Mandzukic inadvertently helped the free to the top corner as he tried to prevent it reaching Pogba who, the Croatians felt, strayed fractionally beyond the last man at the critical moment.
There were signs of improvement after the break but Zlatko Dalic’s side, who had had 60 per cent of the possession up until that point and had completed twice as many passes, continued to exert the greater control over the pattern of play for a while. Luka Modric, named after the final whistle as the tournament’s best player, once again was the key figure in terms of driving them forward.
A problem for the French was that N’Golo Kanté, so often the one that dictates it, looked off the pace. The Chelsea midfielder conceded the first half free which had ultimately led to Perisic’s well struck equaliser and had been caught in possession more than once. When Deschamps replaced him with Steven Nzonzi after 55 minutes, the team suddenly started to look hugely more assured.
Pogba certainly began to assert himself and his goal came after a remarkable piece of work, with the 25-year-old initiating his side’s attack from deep inside his own half, then covering the ground between there and the edge of the Croatian area so quickly that he had time, it seemed, to linger as Griezmann took the ball from Mbappé and laid it off. His first effort came straight back to him bit but he barely blinked and, with Danijel Subasic wrongfooted, he follow-up effort flew into the left-hand side of the goal.
Stretched now as the sense of urgency grew, Croatia quickly conceded a fourth with Lucas Hernandez drawing players towards him out wide on the flank before finding Mbappé in space towards the centre. Neither Domagoj Vida, who played well overall, nor Lovren, who didn’t quite live up to his own lofty billing as one of the world’s best, was in a position to prevent their PSG player getting his shot away.
Though their situation was essentially hopeless, Croatia chased the game as best they could and created the odd half chance before being lucky not to concede again late on when Pogba seemed surprised to suddenly find the ball at his feet in front of goal.
It was already the highest scoring final since 1966; something the French, after their thrilling 4-3 defeat of Argentina in the first knockout round, will surely remind people of when they are accused of being boring.
It might not change anyone’s mind but few things settle a debate in the eyes of a player like a World Cup winner’s medal.
FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Pogba, Kante (Nzonzi, 54 mins); Mbappé, Griezmann, Matuidi (Tolisso, 73 mins); Giroud (Fekir, 81 mins). Booked: Kante, Hernandez.
CROATIA (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pjaca, 81 mins); Rakitic, Brozovic; Rebic (Kramaric, 71 mins), Modric, Perisic; Mandzukic. Booked: Vrsaljko.
Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina).