Three thoughts on France 4-2 Croatia as Les Bleus won their second World Cup.
1. Mbappe magic propels France to World Cup glory
Kylian Mbappe capped his debut World Cup by becoming the first teenager to score in the final since Pele in 1958 as France beat Croatia to become world champions for a second time.
Mbappe, only 19, scored the fourth goal in France’s 4-2 victory in Moscow to take his tally for the tournament to four goals in seven games.
He also produced some devastating bursts down the right flank for Didier Deschamps’ team to cause panic in the Croatia defence.
But in a game that looked set to be dominated by VAR decisions after France’s first two goals were surrounded by controversy, a second half surge by the French clinched their first world title since 1998.
It was not a straightforward victory for Les Bleus, however. Mario Mandzukic’s own goal, from Antoine Griezmann’s 19th minute free-kick, gave France the lead, but it was cancelled out by a stunning Ivan Perisic goal nine minutes later.
France then regained their lead on 38 minutes after a VAR review led to referee Nestor Pitana awarding a penalty following a Perisic handball.
Croatia’s sense of injustice counted for little, however, with France scoring through Paul Pogba and Mbappe to go 4-1 ahead by the 62nd minute.
A Hugo Lloris error gifted Mandzukic a goal for Croatia on 68 minutes, but by that stage, France had the game won.
2. France get VAR off the hook
This World Cup final could have ended up as being all about VAR following a bad first half for the Video Assistant Referee system.
Fortunately, for the good of the game, France’s football ability came to the fore in the second half to make the story about them, rather than the officials, but VAR unquestionably has glitches to resolve and they resurfaced in this game.
The biggest error was the awarding a penalty to France on 35 minutes after the ball hit the hand of Croatia winger Perisic. Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana was called by the VAR to review the incident and after three minutes, he pointed to the spot. Was it a penalty? It looked extremely harsh, but similar ones have been given in this World Cup. Pitana could, and should, have rejected the penalty and waved play on, but VAR put him in a difficult position. Prior to that incident, France took the lead through a free-kick which was headed into his own net by Mandzukic. Pogba appeared to be offside when the ball was played in, but VAR did not call for a review.
And although Griezmann went down easily to win the free-kick — perhaps with no contact — VAR is unable to review such incidents.
The system needs work, but fortunately, it did not end up as the decisive factor in the World Cup final.
3. A game too far for Croatia
For the opening 19 minutes of this game, Croatia looked controlled, hungry and capable of shocking France to win the country’s first-ever World Cup, but as the clock ticked down, time caught up with Zlatko Dalic’s team.
Having played extra-time on three occasions to get to the final — the most recent only four days ago in the semifinal against England– Dalic’s ageing squad was always going to face an almighty challenge against a team with such youth and pace as France.
And although Perisic’s stunning goal gave Croatia hope by cancelling out France’s opener — a Mandzukic own goal — they always seemed to be pushing against the tide from the moment the first goal went in.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was culpable for at least two of France’s goals, with the penalty shootout hero perhaps suffering from the hamstring injury he sustained during the quarterfinal win against Russia.
Luka Modric and Rakitic were also given a much tougher time by Pogba, N’Golo Kante and substitute Steven NZonzi and Croatia had no answer to Mbappe when the teenager sprinted down the right flank.
But while Croata may have run out of steam, their achievement in getting to the final itself is a huge one.
And with so many of this team in or around their 30s, it may be some time before Croatia has a chance as good as this to win the World Cup.