France beat Croatia to win the World Cup
And at the end of the World Cup final that seemed to have everything France were declared World Champions without even playing that well and despite the occasional Croatian chorus of “Football’s Coming Home”.
In a tournament of intricate set-pieces, the organisers seemed determined to make the final itself the ultimate one – although presumably they are not going to be claiming credit for the rather dramatic thunder and lightning effects rumbling around the stadium throughout the match.
A city famous for its state circus was putting on the ultimate showpiece – only this time the clown got to lift the trophy.
Collecting the World Cup will be pinnacle of France captain Hugo Lloris’s career – although he will probably never be tempted to watch the DVD back again.
His bizarre decision to try to dribble around Mario Mandzukic in his own six-yard area briefly sprung hope that there would be an incredible Croatia comeback to throw into the mix.
The Croatia striker could not believe his luck as the ball bounced off his toe and past the embarrassed Tottenham goalkeeper into his net, but for all their valour, it was as much as Croatia could manage.
France open the scoring through a Mario Mandzukic own goal
It had been a strange and unexpected afternoon from the outset.
Almost as loud as the thunder had been the rumble of the drums in the closing ceremony in the minutes before kick-off – played with great gusto by the unlikely figure of Ronaldinho, but with much the same elegance and grace Diana Ross brought to penalty-taking in 1994.
Given the choice as American actor Will Smith as the headline act, FIFA missed a trick in putting the officials in light blue – surely Men in Black would have been more appropriate?
Either way, by the end of a relatively straightforward first half, they were briefly the talking point.
Croatia had come charging out the blocks with the same energy and quick-wittedness that overwhelmed England in the same stadium just four days ago. But on a rare break, Antoine Griezmann won a cheap and perhaps unjust free-kick and that was all the France side needed to put their slow start behind them.
Griezmann’s delivery was an absolute teaser. Somebody had to get a head on it, and in the end it was Mandzukic, who could only flick the ball into the roof of his own net.
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Ivan Perisic equalised for Croatia
With Modric trying to orchestrate things, it was France largely on the back foot – but it took another set-piece to level the scores.
The disappointing thing for France has to be that Croatia won three headers in the box before the ball dropped for Ivan Perisic, who drilled it uncompromisingly into the back of the net.
Then came Pitana’s moment just before the interval. After extensive TV replays the referee decided the sharp downward motion of Perisic’s arm to block a corner clearly made it a hand-to-ball offence and the Argentinian pointed to the spot.
Griezmann showed fewer nerves to convert the kick than Harry Kane might have felt listening on his way home – the goal brought the Frenchman to within two of the England captain’s Golden Boot tally.
Still a large margin, but as the second half got underway, it soon became clear that literally anything could happen.
Ivan Perisic’s handball gifted France a penalty via VAR
Paul Pogba grabs his World Cup final goal for 3-1
Four spectators ran onto the pitch in the 52nd minute dressed in white shirt and black tie – rather formal for streakers – and were subsequently said to have been protesters from Pussy Riot disguised as policemen. They were removed somewhat unceremoniously.
Amid all this, Croatia were manfully trying to get back into the game, but the match was decided when the star of each team finally came in direct confrontation in the 59th minute.
Pogba had worked tirelessly for the cause but finally got a sight of goal from the edge of the area. His shot hit the back of his Croatia nemesis Modric, but the Manchester United midfielder kept his composure to steer the ball past him the second time and into the net.
Kylian Mbappe then took advantage of some brief Croatia disarray as Domagoj Vida backed away to slide a brilliantly simple shot inside the post, seemingly to kill off the game.
That was before Lloris decided to get involved.
Kylian Mbappe scores the third for France
Hugo Lloris’ mistake gives Croatia a late lifeline
As it was, he escaped with his howler. Croatia’s game became increasingly frantic and untidy while the French nerve held.
Five minutes of added time to account for all the mayhem were still not enough and then the true chaos of the French celebrations could begin in earnest.
FRANCE (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Lucas; Pogba, Kante (Nzonzi 55); Mbappe, Matuidi (Tolisso 73), Griezmann, Giroud (Fekir 81). Booked: Kante, Lucas. Goal: Mandzukic og 28, Griezmann pen 38, Pogba 59, Mbappe 65.
CROATIA (4-2-3-1): Subasic; Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic (Pjaca 81); Rebic (Kramaric 71), Rakitic; Brozovic, Perisic, Modric; Mandzukic. Booked: Vrsaljko. Goal: Perisic 28, Mandzukic 69.
REFEREE: Nestor Pitana (Argentina)
Read more here: Daily Express :: Sport Feedhappy wheels
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