It has been a fine World Cup, and it got the final it deserved. The Champions, too. France rode their luck, but they are young and have been the best team here. They have the world’s most exciting new talent in Kylian Mbappe, they are organised and selfless as a defensive unit, and they have reacquainted us all with the Paul Pogba Manchester United bought – rather than the one Old Trafford has seen.
There were thunderclaps above the Luzhniki Stadium throughout the 90 minutes, matched by some pretty big ones on the field, not least in the second half when France extended their lead to 4-1 before a quite spectacular error by Hugo Lloris brought Croatia back into the game.
Indeed spare a thought for the runners-up. Some even thought Croatia the better team here – although clever dick counter-intuitiveness is now close to a global past-time in the social media age – and certainly their capacity for battle after three extra-time knock-out matches was remarkable.
Hugo Lloris (centre) lifts the World Cup aloft as France were crowned champions after beating Croatia 4-2 on Sunday
The victory was France’s second in their history – with their first success coming 20 years ago on home soil
Les Bleus’ channelled their inner Gene Kelly as they sang in the rain after being crowned World Cup winners in Moscow
Manager Didier Deschamps was hoisted in the air by his France squad as the celebrations began at the Luzhniki Stadium
France players celebrate at perform their own ‘Thunder Clap’ at full-time in front of their own supporters
France went ahead on 18 minutes when Mario Mandzukic (centre) inadvertently headed home Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick
Croatia equalised nine minutes later when Ivan Perisic (centre) lashed home with his left-foot from inside the France box
However, France were awarded a penalty just a few minutes later after a VAR review adjudged Perisic to have handled the ball
After having to wait an eternity, Antoine Griezmann stepped up to coolly restore his country’s lead from the penalty spot
Paul Pogba (front) wheels away in celebration after extending France’s lead to make it 3-1 just before the hour mark
Kylian Mbappe added France’s fourth on 65 minutes with this long-range strike which proved too good for Croatia
Croatia pulled one back with 21 minutes remaining when Lloris’ woeful error allowed Mandzukic to score
France: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Lucas, Mbappe ,Pogba, Kante, Matuidi, Griezmann, Giroud.
Subs: Mandanda, Kimpembe, Lemar, Dembele, Tolisso, Nzonzi, Rami, Fekir, Sidibe, Thauvin, Mendy, Areola.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rebic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Perisic, Modric, Mandzukic.
Subs: Livakovic,Corluka, Kovacic, Kramaric, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Badelj, Pjaca, Pivaric, Lovre Kalinic.
Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina)
Only goalkeeper Danijel Subasic seemed wearied and he made little attempt to keep out either of France’s second-half goals. Bizarre fact? This is the fourth consecutive World Cup final in which the losing goalkeeper has come from Monaco. If Joe Hart is looking for a new club, at least he knows where not to go.
At 2-1, Croatia had been France’s equals, at least, but two goals in six minutes took the final away from them. Mbappe had been relatively quiet by his standards until that point, but the second half showed why he is the World Cup’s most powerful teenage presence since Pele in 1958.
It was his speed that took him beyond Ivan Strinic after 59 minutes, cutting the ball back for Antoine Griezmann. He held the ball up perfectly, feeding it back to Pogba. He shot, edge of the area, with his right. It rebounded back to him off a defender and he hit it, first time, with his left – like a kid playing up against the school wall. Subasic barely moved. France had a two-goal advantage with 30 minutes to spare.
Didier Deschamps – who has been here before, remember – first made the universal gesture for ‘calm down’. He couldn’t contain himself, however, and a minute later could be seen punching the air in the direction of France’s small travelling contingent.
The fourth was the killer. Lucas Hernandez went on a powerful run and did well to stay on his feet, despite some pretty robust tackling. He switched the ball inside to Mbappe who had no right to try his luck, but did anyway. Kids, eh? He beat Subasic to his right, again with minimal resistance. France’s bench cleared as the whole squad chased Mbappe into the corner. He is the most prolific teenager at a World Cup final since Pele 60 years ago. What a player he will be.
There wasn’t an empty seat at the Luzhniki Stadium for Sunday’s showpiece between France and Croatia
France President Emmanuel Macron (left) embraces his Croatian counterpart Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic before the match
Despite all of Croatia’s good play, they came unstuck when Marcelo Brozovic gave away a soft free-kick on Griezmann
Griezmann picked himself up and from his in-swinging delivery Manzukic could only accidentally flick it into his own net
Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic could do nothing to prevent his team-mate’s header – as this angle shows
The French players celebrate as one as Mandzukic became the first player to ever score an own goal at a World Cup final
Manzukic’s own goal didn’t rattle Croatia and they deservedly equalised when Perisic blasted them level
Perisic showed great composure to gather an aerial ball with his right foot despite the attentions of several French players
The 29-year-old’s second touch was equally as impressive as he thundered a strike beyond France goalkeeper Lloris
Perisic was duly mobbed by his team-mates as he levelled the scores at the Luzhniki Stadium
Croatia got the sniff of revival when Hugo Lloris was given a reminder of why he is in goal. Trying to play sweeper and taking the ball around Mario Mandzukic, he lost out to a tackle that took the ball into the net. It didn’t matter. Croatia were too far adrift by that stage. France’s defensive unit held strong and the prize was rightly theirs.
The problem – or rather the reality – of VAR is that some decisions are simply a matter of personal interpretation. They would be a judgement call with the naked eye in real time, and they remain so even after repeated video replays. The goal that gave France the lead a second time was like that. The replay confirmed only that there had been a handball; what the official does with from there was down to the individual. Referee Nestor Pitana of Argentina gave it; one imagines a number of his contemporaries would not.
All we can say as neutrals is that, all things considered, is was probably for the best that England did not make it to the final after all. A contentious penalty given to France, against England, by an Argentinian? Not sure the nation in its present febrile state is evolved enough to handle that.
To these eyes, it seemed devilishly hard on the culprit, Ivan Perisic, and it never looks good when a referee toddles off to consult a television only after furious protests from a group of players with a hugely vested interest. That is what happened in the 36th minute here, blue shirts surrounding Pitana after a corner had been blocked at the near post.
Just minutes after scoring, Perisic was at the heart of the action once more as he gave away a penalty for handball
Olivier Giroud (right) and Lucas Hernandez were among the French players leading the protests for a penalty to be awarded
After initially not awarding a penalty, Argentine referee Nestor Pitana spoke with VAR officials about his original non-decision
Pitana reviews footage of the incident thanks to VAR as play is halted over his impending decision
And after viewing it, Pitana overturned his decision and pointed to the penalty spot to Croatia’s disbelief
Perisic tries to argue his case to Pitana, but the latter is not interested after making his decision
After a long wait, Griezmann duly scored – rolling his effort to the left as Subasic dived in the wrong direction
France’s No 7 celebrated with his trademark ‘Take the L’ dance from the computer game Fortnite
Bottom line: it hit Perisic’s hand. But in his defence, there was a French player directly in front of him who he might have expected to get a touch. When he didn’t the ball came onto Perisic at speed and wholly unexpectedly. His hand didn’t seem in an unnatural position, and he didn’t appear to make great movement towards the ball. But after France called their meeting, Pitana obediently went over to watch some television, and came back with a penalty.
Croatia have been the shootout kings at this tournament, but Antoine Griezmann played his hand brilliantly. He sent Subasic the wrong way, and stuck it in the bottom left corner, quite gently. It was a masterclass in cool.
This was the first World Cup final since 1974 to see three goals before half-time, and Griezmann was at the centre of it for France without making great impact on the wider game. He only touched the ball once in the opening 12 minutes, but after 18 won the foul that led to the opener. That was soft too, Pitana falling for a little tumble, allowing France to have their first swing at Croatia’s goal.
Griezmann flighted the corner in and Mandzukic jumped and diverted it off the top of his head into his own net. This really has been the tournament of set pieces. Own goals, too – a record 12 scored in Russia, although the hapless Mandzukic was the first to get one to his name in a World Cup final.
Pogba has been quietly effective for France at this World Cup and the Manchester United midfielder got in on the scoring act
After seeing his initial right-footed shot blocked, Pogba made the most of his second chance with his left-footed curler
France’s No 6 was mobbed by his team-mates as they took a step closer to winning their second World Cup
The realisation of Pogba’s goal was evident on all of the squad’s faces as they took part in one massive bundle
Meanwhile for Croatia goalkeeper Subasic – the feeling was in stark contrast as he cut a crestfallen figure
Les Bleus’ day got even better when Mbappe added a fourth with this effort from outside the penalty area
Subasic cut a lonely figure as he picks himself back up after seeing Mbappe’s strike beat him and fly into the bottom corner
Mbappe’s goal saw him become the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Brazilian legend Pele in 1958
It was a pity, Croatia having been much the better side until that point. They hit back in kind though – a Luka Modric free-kick from the right headed over by centre-half Domagoj Vida. Then, in the 28th minute, the leveller Croatia deserved. N’Golo Kante was booked for a foul on Perisic and France had several chances to clear the resulting Modric free-kick. Sime Vrsaljko won the first header, and there were two more challenges won by Croatia, before Vida steered the ball back to Perisic.
He controlled it with his right, dragged it onto his left and his low shot left Hugo Lloris no chance. If Manchester United are serious about prising him away from Inter Milan, the valuation just went up £10m.
Yet Croatia are nothing if not tenacious no matter the circumstances. No sooner had France regained their VAR-given lead when they hit back, either side of half-time. Perisic played in Ante Rebic who just couldn’t get his shot away – and then Rebic, again, broke clear of France’s defence, forcing an outstanding save from Lloris.
Croatia were given a lifeline when Lloris inexplicably tried to beat Mandzukic for skill – which backfired specatularly
France’s captain couldn’t believe his mistake as Mandzukic ran towards goal to collect the ball for the restart of the match