MOSCOW – Fancied France showed their class after getting on track with a little help from Lady Luck as they claimed a second World Cup title on Sunday, 4-2 over courageous but tiring Croatia.
An own goal from Mario Mandzukic and a penalty from Antoine Griezmann, given after intervention from the video referee, put France up 2-1 at half-time, with Ivan Perisic getting a temporary equalizer.
Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe wrapped up matters after the break. Mandzukic scored Croatia’s second after a major blunder from France keeper Hugo Lloris.
The captain Lloris later received the trophy from FIFA president Gianni Infantino in a massive rain storm – with at first only Russian President Vladimir Putin kept dry with an umbrella while everyone else including French President Emmanuel Macron and Infantino got soaked during the ceremony.
France were the last surviving pre-tournament favourites but a little lucky on the evening. Mandzukic’s own goal came after a soft free-kick when Griezmann fell under a challenge, and the penalty was also disputed when the ball hit Perisic’s hand off a corner kick.
Croatia ran out of steam in the second half, after having played extra-time in the past three games, as France coasted home in the highest-scoring final since England’s 4-2 extra-time win over West Germany in 1966.
France won their second title, following 1998 – when they had beaten Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals – and made up for the disappointment of losing the 2006 final to Italy on penalties, and the Euro 2016 decider at home to Portugal.
Mbappe was the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Brazil’s Pele in 1958, and Didier Deschamps became the third man to lift the trophy as player and coach – joining Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo of Brazil.
“We are world champions and France will be top of the world,” Deschamps told reporters after being showered with champagne and other drinks when the team gate-crashed the news conference.
“What people should remember is that France are world champions which means that we did things better than others. We have a very young group, 14 were on a discovery journey but the quality was there.”
Griezmann said: “Frankly and honestly I don’t yet get what it is. The World Cup is a lot, I am very proud of the players and staff, it is really a united group. We did something incredible.”
Croatia were impressive in their first-ever final and runners-up is their best-ever result under the eyes of Presidents Putin, Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia; and Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of 2022 hosts Qatar, among the 78,011 crowd.
Croatia showed no early nerves when the match started after a short closing ceremony featuring US star Will Smith among others.
They confidently dominated the action in the French half, without however threatening as Raphael Varane headed a cross out of danger ahead of Mandzukic.
France took the lead out of the blue in the 18th. Griezmann lobbed the soft free-kick into the penalty area from a half-right position, and the ball went into the top left corner off Mandzukic’s head as a group of players rose to meet the ball.
Croatia battled back, like in the previous three games, levelling 10 minutes later. France failed to clear a free-kick, the ball fell to Perisic who rounded Ngolo Kante and rifled home into the right corner from the edge of the box.
Modern technology then helped France go back on top and for good another 10 minutes later in the first VAR decision in a World Cup final.
A corner from Griezmann hit the arm of Perisic when Blaise Matuidi attempted a near-post flick on, and Argentine referee Nestor Pitana harshly awarded a penalty, after a long review, which Griezmann calmly slotted home.
It was his fourth goal of the tournament and France’s first shot on target in the final as rain fell and a thunderstorm approached.
The awarding of the spot kick caused a storm on social media and Dalic said: “I never comment on referees but in a World Cup final you never give such a penalty.
“But it doesn’t diminish the France victory. We played our best game in the championship. We controlled the game but conceded. Against a strong team like France you can’t make such mistakes.”
Croatia came close to a second equalizer three minutes after the restart when Lloris tipped Ante Rebic’s drive over the bar.
A quartet of pitch invaders (clad in black trousers, white shirts and ties) briefly stopped the action, with Russian protest group and punk band Pussy Riot claiming responsibility for the incident they named a protest.
France, now with more space, made it 3-1 in the 59th. Pogba played a long ball across half the field to the fast Mbappe and received a pass back via Griezmann, beating Danijel Subasic into the left corner after having a first shot blocked.
Mbappe scored the fourth from outside the box six minutes later to match Griezmann on four goals before Lloris gifted Croatia their second in the 69th, taking up a back-pass and then losing the ball to Mandzukic who scored from short range.
France then celebrated in the rain while Croatia at least got a little consolation when Modric was named best player of the tournament and took pride in making the final at all.
“I thank all players for what they have done. I am proud for my players, my team and my country,” Dalic said. -DPA