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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

France win the World Cup with 4-2 victory over Croatia

Own goal from Mandzukic and strikes from Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappe give French their second world title

Where to begin?

Six goals, four pitch invaders, one contentious Video Assistant Referee (VAR) call, an incredible goalkeeping howler, a first teenager to find the net since Pele in 1958 and, at the end of 90 minutes in Moscow and 64 matches spanning 31 days in Russia, France were world champions.

Croatia, superior for large swathes, were crushed. Thunder rumbled, lightening lashed the Luzhniki Stadium and, when the sun set on a fabulous football tournament, France danced off into the night with their position as the planet’s No 1 team restored.

They have two stars now on the badge, stitched 20 years apart, and in Kylian Mbappe, one braced to go stratospheric.

Captain in 1998, manager in 2018, Didier Deschamps on Sunday becoming only the third man to win the World Cup on the pitch and in the dugout.

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Tears followed, not from Deschamps or counterpart Zlatko Dalic, but from French players and Croatians, too. It was some finale all right.

Delight for France; despair for Croatia. Contesting their first major final since independence – the French have appeared in five in that period – for much of the match they were the better side.

For the fourth time in as many games, they fell behind and bounced back, yet the tussle quickly slipped from their grasp. The trophy, as well.

There would be no final flush of their unbending resolve, no fairytale finish. France 4, Croatia 2.

It feels trivial to unspool what went on before the rain doused the fireworks and the dust settled. But France went into half-time with a 2-1 lead despite having a solitary shot at Croatia’s goal.

For that, they have Mario Mandzukic to thank. On 18 minutes, the Juventus forward headed Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick into his own goal.

In earning the foul, Griezmann appeared to make the most of minimal contact; Paul Pogba looked marginally offside as the deadball was delivered. But, still, it stood, the first own goal in a World Cup final.

Ten minutes later, Croatia were deservedly level. Ivan Perisic collected Domagoj Vida’s pass as the ball bundled about in the French penalty area, took one touch past N’Golo Kante and rifled a shot past Hugo Lloris. It was the Croat’s third goal this past month.

However, not long after the hour, he was found guilty of a handball in his own area and, following four minutes of uncertainty and a VAR consultation, a spot-kick was awarded.

Harsh on Croatia, Griezmann rolled the penalty into the opposite direction of Danijel Subasic’s dive. The Frenchman had four goals for the tournament.

Around the hour, France scored two in quick succession. Pogba released Mbappe with a delicious pass, the ball came back to him and, at the second attempt, the midfielder curled his effort past a rooted Subasic. There were 59 minutes gone.

By the 65th, France were 4-1 up. This time, Mbappe feigned to shoot one way, but dragged his shot back across his body and into the net. Again, Subasic was helpless.

Mbappe, not 20 until December, was the first teenager since Pele to score in a World Cup final. Sixty years separated them. France could smell victory, almost touch the cup.

And then, four minutes later, Lloris inexplicably attempted to take the ball past a charging Mandzukic and it ricocheted off the Croat and in. Mind presumably whirling, Lloris - his side’s captain - held up his hands in apology.

Soon, he had them wrapped around the World Cup. France were champions, if not the best team in Russia then certainly one of them. Croatia were a cruel second.

Before the trophy was awarded, Mbappe was named the tournament’s best young player, on the back of four goals scored; Croatia captain Luka Modric its best overall. No one could argue with either.

So, after 64 matches and 31 days of football, and in the deluge that accompanied the prize giving but not French spirits, one team stood on top of the world. Vive la France.

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