Twenty years after France won the first World Cup in its country’s history, a youthful Les Bleus side beat Croatia 4-2 in Moscow to win football’s most prestigious prize for the second time.
This was the highest-scoring final since 1966 and an entertaining climax a wonderful tournament deserved. In 90 high-octane minutes there was a controversial VAR decision, an own goal, record-breaking feats, a pitch invasion and an underdog pushing a heavyweight to its limit.
A Mario Mandzukic’s own goal and a controversial Antoine Griezmann penalty either side of Ivan Perisic’s wonderful long-range strike gave France a 2-1 lead at the break.
Arguably, France was undeservedly ahead but by the hour Les Bleus had scored two further goals, through Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe, to put France in command and the result in little doubt.
A dreadful error by captain Hugo Lloris allowed Mandzukic to reduce the deficit in the 69th minute and though Croatia went in search of more goals in the closing 20 minutes France, despite nerves creeping in, refused to fold.
Mbappe, aged 19 years and 207 days, also further cemented his status as the most exciting young talent in world football with a long-range strike which made him the second-youngest player to score in a final after Pele, who scored as a 17-year-old in 1958. Deservedly, the Paris Saint-Germain star was named the competition’s best young player.
It was at the semifinals 20 years ago that France shattered Croatian dreams to reach a final it subsequently won with Zinedine Zidane inspiring Les Bleus to history.
The success of the team known as “la France Black Blanc Beur” (“black white Arab France”) had transcended football, sparking the biggest gathering at the Champs-Elysees since the Liberation of Paris in 1944.
Parisians will no doubt celebrate into the night once again, but for the players it was the memories of Euro 2016, rather than France 98, which spurred them on in the Russian capital.
The French were favorites to beat Portugal in the European Championship final two years ago, but were outdone by the underdogs on home soil.
Olivier Giroud admitted the squad were complacent in Paris, but the striker added in the build-up to this match: “This time it is different. We are not getting carried away.”
Giroud’s words proved true as France made amends for past failures and did so emphatically, becoming the first team to score four goals in a World Cup final since Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in 1970.
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