A month of unpredictable, yet entertaining football, reached its climax, and Didier Deschamps side did not disappoint. France emerged as victors against Croatia in a thrilling World Cup final, which they won 4-2. Goals from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, and Kylian Mbappe ensured Deschamps would become the third individual to win the World Cup as both a player and manager.
Maryam Naz looks back on the competition’s grand finale and discusses the five things we learned from the game
1) Midfield Coup
Zlatco Dalic’s midfield of Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Marcelo Brozovic proved to be difficult to nullify. N’Golo Kante was presented with the mammoth task of restricting the trio; he was not aided by Pogba who, despite possessing attacking flair, failed to track back.
On several occasions, Rakitic was given time and space to pick out players in advanced positions like Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic. Kante worked hard to cover the acres, yet he was overpowered by the experience of the Croatian midfield. Due to picking up a booking and clearly struggling in the centre of the pitch, the Chelsea player was substituted for Steven Nzonzi, who also struggled to contain Modric.
2) Teenage sensation
Kylian Mbappe stole the limelight from his teammates Pogba and Griezmann in the 64th minute. His strike at Danijel Subašić’s goal means he is the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958. His skill and pace terrorised the Croatian defence, in particular Domagoj Vida, who was unable to stop him, despite being the more experienced player.
Yet, not only did he score a brilliant goal, he also played a crucial part in the build-up to Pogba’s goal. His run down the right-hand side led to a cross from which Pogba profited.
Mbappe was awarded the Young Player of the Tournament award, in the aftermath of the game. He has all the hallmarks of potentially becoming the best in world football.
3) Croatia’s best player
Ivan Perisic was in the thick of the action for his side. He scored the leveller for Croatia and was a source of creativity down the right-hand side. Perisic provided wonderful crosses for Mandzukic to latch onto, yet he also proved that he could shoot too, evident in Croatia’s opener.
Benjamin Pavard had a nightmare of a game in defending against him. He gave away the ball frequently and was often out of position, allowing Perisic to exploit the space left in his wake. This led to a near-goal for Mandzukic in the first-half.
Yet he caused a moment of controversy, judged to have handled the ball in the 34th minute. Video replays persuaded the referee to award France a penalty which Griezmann calmly put away. However, Perisic continued to graft against Pavard, and did not let this setback affect him. He was Croatia’s best player and was unfortunate to be on the receiving end of a wrong decision.
4) Jekyll and Hyde:
Mario Mandzukic mirrored Perisic’s performance. His own-goal in the 18th minute, France’s opener, put a damper on Croatia’s brilliant start to the game. From there on he continued to press the French defence; in the 46th minute, he nearly put Ante Rebic through on goal, but his pass was deflected. Mandzukic made amends in the second-half when he pressed Hugo Lloris, causing him to fluff his lines and concede. The French captain played the ball against the striker, which caused it to ricochet into the back of the net, re-stoking Croatia’s fire.
Ultimately, despite working hard for his side, his mistake in the first-half sealed their fate.
5) ‘One of the best defenders in the world’?
All eyes were on Dejan Lovren after he labelled himself as ‘one of the best defenders in the world’ following Croatia’s win over England. Yet not only did France put four goals past him, but he also had a few shaky moments which could’ve added to Croatia’s woes. In the 22nd minute, he gave away possession to Olivier Giroud, and was fortunate the Chelsea forward’s touch was wrongly labelled as handball.
He did pose a problem for the French defence from corners and free kicks. His physicality gave him a presence in the box, yet he was unable to add to Croatia’s goal tally.
He has a long way to go before being viewed as a world-class defender; he must do the talking on the pitch, and not off it.
Croatia were unlucky, and the score line does not flatter the way they have performed over these last few weeks. In all three of their knockout games they came from behind, fighting through extra-time and penalties to make it to the final. Yet France have stolen the show. Deschamps has a team full of superstars at his fingertips, and there’s no telling where they could go from here.
Suffice to say, Jules Rimet will be gleaming down at them, proud that his country have brought it home.
Follow Maryam on Twitter @mnaz98