Sunday, July 15, 2018

France World Champions and Croatia, the world's Champions

The World Cup final between France and Croatia will be remembered for many things: Croatia's first final and France's second title; the most goals in a final since 1966; the first final since 2002 that does not go into extra time; Mbappe as the youngest goalscorer in a final since Pele in 1958; Didier Deschamps joining Beckenbauer and Zagallo as having won the cup both as a player and manager; the first use of VAR in a World Cup final.

It was a great final that defied expectations in Moscow, proving a fine end to a World Cup that has been better than expected. Croatia started best, and looked superior until Mario Mandzukic scored an own goal to bring France ahead, in what was really France's first shot on goal. Perisic's equalizer was well-deserved, but what will probably be discussed a lot was the penalty award for hands, following a revision from the VAR: initially the Argentinean referee did not call it, but after revising the video he awarded the penalty that Antoine Griezmann scored on. It was not a clear-cut call: in my view the hand did not stop an open goal situation and was unintentional, but that can certainly be interpreted differently. What is clear about VAR is that it does not take controversy away from football, but is a tool to help referees make decisions (which may not always be better).
Although Croatia came out to attack in the second half the French counter-attack was excellent, with Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe making it 3-1 and 4-1. Paul Pogba was young player of the tournament four years ago, a title that now goes to Mbappe, underlining the strength of French youth football. It was only a dreadful mistake by Hugo Lloris (reminding of Loris Karius' giveaway to Karim Benzema in the Champions league final), giving a goal away to Mario Mandzukic (who became the first player in a final to score for both teams...), that gave Croatia some hope that they might make another amazing comeback.
But it was not to be and France won 4-2.

France are World Champions, but Croatia were the world's champions. Added to their quality, the Croat team has fought bravely and with spirit throughout the tournament, playing some of the most dramatic matches of the tournament. Luka Modric deservedly got the award as the best player of the tournament, but the entire team has been fantastic. And in the end they also took their final defeat with a level of dignity that you would be unlikely to see in many other teams: they were disappointed, but congratulated the French and thanked their fans, of which they can now surely count most of the world (including the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who looked disarmingly excited about the entire final and meeting the players in the award ceremony).

Congratulations France. Thank you Croatia.

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