France beat Croatia 4-2 in one of the most thrilling World Cup finals in history to win the tournament for a second time.
Antoine Griezmann helped give France the perfect start as his powerful free-kick was diverted into the Croatian goal by Mario Mandžukić. However Croatia quickly hit back through a superb Ivan Perišić strike
But Griezmann restored France’s lead from the spot after a contentious VAR decision. France extended their lead through Paul Pogba before Kylian Mbappé scored a sensational fourth.
Mandžukić then scored a consolation thanks to a horrendous error from Hugo Lloris, but it was too little too late as France went on to win the trophy. Here are five things we learned.
Five things we learned
Griezmann really was happy to ugly
After France secured their place in this World Cup final with a characteristically gritty 2-0 victory over Belgium, Antoine Griezmann made sure he found the time to respond to the sneering of Thibaut Courtois, who had accused his team of relying on “anti-football” in Russia.
“Does Thibaut Courtois think he plays Barcelona football at Chelsea?” he mocked. “We don’t care about it. We don’t care how we played…we won. I don’t care how, I just want a second star to be on this shirt. That is all.”
In pics: France vs Croatia — The best action from the final
And so France’s opening two goal – a whipped Griezmann free-kick into the penalty area, diverted into the net by the top of Mandžukić’s head, and a rather fortuitous penalty – felt oddly fitting. Two ugly goals, that provided the foundations of another decidedly pragmatic performance from this French team. They may not have been the most exciting team at this World Cup but they have been the best: Griezmann in particular deserves that second star.
A fitting goal for a final
If France’s opening two goals were ugly, Croatia’s was a thing of beauty. Ivan Perišić built the goal as well as finishing it: around 40-yards from goal he drew a soft foul, with Luka Modrić floating the free-kick to the back stick, where Šime Vrsaljko was waiting. His header across the penalty area wasn’t properly cleared by France, with Perišić on hand at the edge of the box to unleash a low drive across Hugo Lloris and into the corner of the net.
It was an outstanding goal, made even better by the significance of the match it was scored in. And it was only right that the final had a goal that will be forever remembered, given how many outstanding strikes there have been at this tournament: from Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-gasp free-kick against Spain, to Lionel Messi’s sublime finish against Nigeria, to Benjamin Pavard’s exceptional driven finish against Argentina.
This has been a truly wonderful tournament, characterised by several wonderful goals and a common theme of entertaining, attacking play. Perišić’s was one of the best.
VAR rears its head again
The Video Assistant Referee system was brought in for the first time at the 2018 World Cup and dominated headlines throughout the group stages of this tournament.
However, after several contentious early decisions – including Australia paying the penalty against France, and that amusingly chaotic finale to Group B – VAR has rather dropped out of the spotlight since the quarter-final between Belgium and Brazil, when several decisions went against an increasingly frustrated Neymar.
Until the final, that is. After scoring that memorable goal, Perišić then appeared to flick out his hand when attempting to clear Blaise Matuidi’s duff header across the box. The referee was initially unmoved, only for the VAR to advise him to watch the incident on the pitch-side monitor. He deliberated for an awfully long time before eventually awarding the spot-kick. It certainly didn’t look a “clear and obvious error” and appeared far worse in slow motion – but all of that is inconsequential. The penalty was given, Griezmann scored and the game had changed.
Pogba performs when it matters
Paul Pogba has been forced to weather a lot of criticism at this tournament. But the truth is he has been one of France’s most important and influential players, particularly during the group stage when he dragged his team-mates through gruelling matches against Australia and Peru.
Pogba was equally important here, but this time stepped directly into the spotlight with his brilliant second-half goal – France’s third. His first shot was blocked, but he steered his second bite at the cherry confidently past Danijel Subašić and into the corner of Croatia’s goal.
For several different reasons Pogba will always attract more ire than his team-mates, but he is a wonderful player who has thrilled whenever freed from the defensive responsibilities that have occasionally shackled him at Manchester United. Not that that side of his game is missing, mind: no player on the pitch made more tackles than him, while only two (Lucas Hernández and Ante Rebić) made more interceptions.
And maybe Lovren isn’t the best defender in the world after all…
Dejan Lovren is nothing if not very, very confident.
“It’s something special for me. From my point of view, people said I had a difficult season but I don’t agree,” he said after Croatia’s extra-time win over England. “I took Liverpool to the final of the Champions League. Now with my national team we are in the final. I think people should recognise that I am also one of the best defenders in the world and not just talk nonsense.”
Naturally then, all eyes were on the Liverpool defender during this final. He played reasonably well and certainly avoided the complete horrorshow many supporters were rooting for, but once again he was outclassed by his defensive colleague Domagoj Vida. As expected he struggled against the pace of Kylian Mbappé, while he struggled to deal with France’s aerial pace at corners.