France become the sixth multiple World Cup champions after defeating Croatia in an entertaining 4-2 victory in Moscow.
Mario Mandzukic, who was the hero of Croatia’s semi-final victory over England, opened the scoring for France when his header diverted the ball into his own net. Croatia showed great determination to find an equalizer and Ivan Perisic continued his promising start with a sublime finish into the far corner.
Controversy surrounded France’s second goal when the referee resorted to VAR, after Perisic handled the ball inside his own penalty area. After a long delay, he pointed to the spot and Griezmann remained composed to send his nation into the half-time interval with a valuable lead.
Paul Pogba added a third on the hour-mark when Kylian Mbappe showcased his elite sprinting pace to break free of Croatia’s resistant defence. His low delivery into the heart of the penalty area found Griezmann. The Atletico Madrid forward selflessly rolled an inviting pass for Pogba to strike, and although his initial effort was blocked, he made no mistake on the follow-up to send a ferocious effort crashing beyond the hapless Danijel Subasic.
Kylian Mbappe then made his own indelible mark on the 2018 World Cup final by becoming the first teenager to score in the final since Brazilian legend Pele in 1958. The match was baring many similarities to that 5-2 victory for the Brazilians against hosts Sweden when Hugo Lloris made a calamitous mistake to gift Croatia a potential route back into the game.
Mario Mandzukic hunted the ball down like a lion to pressurize Lloris into making a costly mistake. His attempted clearance was diverted into the net by the Juventus striker and Croatia was once again filled with the hope that they could pull off another unlikely achievement.
They huffed and puffed, but sadly for Croatia, it wasn’t enough. It may be an achievement in itself for The Blazers to have even reached the final, but the defeat will taste just as bitter regardless.
Journalists and spectators immediately whipped the history books out for any facts surrounding an exciting, enthralling and record-equalling final tie. Not only did Mbappe become the first teenager to score in the final since the great Pele, but Didier Deschamps became only the third individual to win the tournament as both a player and manager and the match was also the highest scoring final in normal time in 60 years.
Croatia effectively pressed very high in the opening exchanges and attempted to force France into conceding possession. They received joy from this system but lacked the conviction in the final third, despite utilizing Ivan Perisic down the left channel as an attacking outlet.
Kylian Mbappe could’ve been a major threat during the first half but Strinic performed majestically to prevent him from creating issues and defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozovic also shifted across to outnumber the Paris-Saint Germain forward.
Both teams play a possession-based style of football, which made the midfield battle increasingly interesting. N’Golo Kante was unable to contain Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic during the first half, and the lack of defensive contribution from Paul Pogba made his task extremely more difficult.
France played a high defensive line to attempt to catch the likes of Perisic and Rebic offside and squeeze the amount of space for them to operate on the pitch. They persisted with their original formation during the first half with a basic 4-3-3 but a variety of formational adjustments surprised Croatia in the second half.
Didier Deschamps switched to a 4-2-4 formation, which involved Matuidi shifting into a left midfield role and Griezmann moving more central to play in between the lines. Pavard was more reserved in the first half and slotted into a back-three when France pressed forward on the attack.
Hernandez was influential in the final third and contributed to finding Mbappe for France’s fourth and final goal. N’Zonzi was introduced for Kante during the second half and provided defensive stability to allow Pogba to have more attacking freedom in the second period.
France outplayed them during their goal spree but Croatia remained a potent threat after finding a route back into the game via Lloris’ torrid mistake. Les Bleus retained a rigid defensive formation and made it difficult for Croatia to create opportunities with their possession style of play. They were defensively resilient and held out for a comfortable win on paper to win their second ever World Cup.
VAR has been a major talking point throughout the 2018 World Cup, and it made headlines once again for France’s second goal. The French corner was delivered into the penalty area and Perisic clearly handled the ball.
However, Matuidi was jumping just ahead of him and it’s unimaginable that Perisic could’ve possibly reacted to prevent himself from handling the ball. The decision was reverted to VAR, and after a small delay, the referee was requested to review the decision from the side line.
After reviewing the incident on a number of occasions, Nestor Pitana pointed to the spot and France regained their lead. Another incident that must be highlighted is the softness of France’s free-kick that led to their first goal, as Griezmann fell to the turf very softly under the challenge of Brozovic.
Man of the Match: Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann has been a sensation once again and followed his Euro 2016 heroics with another strong performance in Russia. He was a constant threat throughout the first half and played a selfless role in the second half to play between the lines and drop deep to contribute positively to the team defensively.
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