Twenty years after their first triumph, France are the World Champions again as they defeated Croatia 4-2 in an eventful Fifa World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday.
In a match that saw an own goal, a controversial penalty awarded after VAR intervention, comedy goalkeeping, fans running on to the pitch and some cracking goals, France ultimately proved to be too good.
Croatia had to, for the fourth game running, come from behind after Mario Mandzukic scored an own goal to put France ahead. He was the first player to score an own goal in the World Cup final. Ivan Perisic helped Croatia pull one back with a rasping left-footed strike. And before the second half ended, there was controversy with the referee using video replays to award France a penalty which Antoine Griezmann converted.
Coming out for the second half, France then showed there was too much individual quality in their side as Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba scored fantastic goals to put them 4-1 ahead.
Hugo Lloris made a blunder in his own goal to help ease the pain of scoring an own goal for Mandzukic.
France join Uruguay and Argentina in winning the World Cup for a second time, after their 1998 triumph over Brazil when Didier Deschamps – now the coach – was the captain.
“It’s so beautiful, so wonderful,” Deschamps told France’s TF1. “I’m really happy for this group. It wasn’t always easy, but by working hard, listening, they are on top of the world for four years.”
The game will be remembered as the highest-scoring World Cup final since England’s win over West Germany in 1966, and for Mbappe becoming the youngest player to score in the final since Pele in 1958.
But while the celebrations begin on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris and across France, Croatia will wonder what might have been had the first-half penalty not been awarded just as they were in the ascendancy.
Croatia played all the football early on, with Mbappe on the fringes of the game, but it was France who went in front in the 18th minute.
Griezmann won a soft free-kick wide on the right and his delivery into the area was flicked into his own net by the unfortunate Mandzukic.
- VAR controversy -
It was harsh on Croatia, especially with Pogba possibly a fraction offside when the free-kick was played.
Their coach Zlatko Dalic looked rueful, but his team were back level just before the half-hour, Domagoj Vida laying the ball off for Perisic, who shuffled the ball from right foot to left before drilling a superb shot past Lloris with the aid of a touch off Raphael Varane.
But Perisic was at the centre of the controversy that led to France’s second goal in the 38th minute.
His handball at a corner could hardly be described as deliberate, yet Argentine referee Nestor Pitana reviewed the video by the side of the pitch and gave the penalty.
As a thunderstorm erupted in the sky over Moscow, Griezmann stroked home the penalty, his fourth goal of the competition and his third from a spot-kick.
It was also France’s first actual attempt on goal, but they picked off Croatia after the break.
Shortly after several pitch invaders briefly interrupted proceedings, the third French goal arrived in the 59th minute.
Pogba started the move with a drilled pass for Mbappe on the right. His cutback found Griezmann, and he laid the ball off for Pogba to score at the second attempt from 18 yards.
Mbappe then added his name to the scoresheet in the 65th minute when he collected a Lucas Hernandez pass and fired low past Danijel Subasic from 25 yards, capping what has been a fine tournament for the 19-year-old.
That should have been that, but Croatia were given something to cling to as Lloris absurdly tried to dribble away from Mandzukic on the edge of his six-yard box, and the striker stuck out a foot to divert the ball in.
However, for Lloris the World Cup winner’s medal will help make up for the embarrassment of that moment.
In the end, Croatia did all the running but France did more of the scoring.
It was almost as much of a breeze as the 1998 final for Les Bleus, ultimately. Deschamps now joins elite company, one which only has Franz Beckenbauer for lifting the World Cup as a captain and as a coach. Mario Zagallo is the only other person to complete the player-coach double.
(With AFP inputs)