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France Champions of 2018 FIFA World Cup, A Show of Controversy and Class - Rated the Most Thrilling Finals Ever


-Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe goals seal Fran
ce's second World Cup win
-Player ratings: who starred in the World Cup final?
-World Cup final goalscorer Kylian Mbappe: The making of a global sensation


- Most Valuable Player:
1. Luka Modric
2. Edwin Hazard
3. Antoine Griezmann

- Most Sensational Player:
Kylian Mbappe


Truly, madly, deeply. We will miss this World Cup like no other. The day after Bastille Day France are champions and deservedly so. But only after the most remarkable, crazy and controversial encounter against a courageous Croatia in which there was a VAR storm, and an actual storm in the skies above Moscow, a first-ever own goal in a World Cup Final, a cool strike from a new global superstar, an horrific goalkeeping blunder by the man who lifted the trophy - and a Pussy Riot pitch invasion.

To secure its status as the best ever World Cup the tournament needed a memorable final. It got it. What a finale it was to this 31-day festival of football, as Gareth Southgate called it, and it was the highest-scoring final since England beat West Germany 4-2 in 1966.

Well, they sang football’s coming home. At least the score was the same and while England and their fans will never stop dreaming of what might have been - just 22 minutes from the final, if anyone needed reminding - France have the 18-carat gold, 14-inch, 11lb trophy for the second time ever and the second time in 20 years.

Didier Deschamps was their captain then and he is their coach now and became only the third man - after Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo - to achieve that astonishing feat and for that his place in the pantheon of French football is secured.

Not that the former midfielder has always been loved and this triumph is a victory for his dogged, determined approach in overhauling the squad that lost the final of Euro 2016 - with 14 new faces - but also reverting to a more disciplined and pragmatic approach which meant shackling some of their extraordinary attacking talents.

He did it his way and the danger for the rest of the world is that this is an extremely young squad - the second youngest ever (at 25 years and 10 months) after Brazil in 1970 to win the World Cup - and one that may get even better. They were the best in Russia.

Deschamps has made Paul Pogba play for the team and was rewarded with a goal - actually the first-ever scored in a World Cup Final by a Manchester United player - and an influential performance but he also has the brilliance of Kylian Mbappe who is a phenomenon.

The 19-year-old had the broadest of smiles during the playing of the national anthems prior to kick-off, looking like this was going to be his playground, but played patchily for 45 minutes before coming alive. Mbappe scored the game’s finest goal and became the first teenager to register in the final since Pele in 1958 - when Brazil won by the same scoreline.

Even so for almost an hour Croatia, led by the player of the tournament Luka Modric, were the better team in what was their first final. In the last 11 days they had come through extra-time in the three knock-out matches, twice going to penalties, which meant they had played the equivalent of an extra game and had 24 hours less to prepare. But they again showed remarkable reserves of resilience, energy and fighting spirit to pick themselves back up and off the canvas. They never, ever gave up.

They will have burned with a sense of injustice at half-time. They had out-played France, they had swarmed around N’Golo Kante, and dominated midfield, and yet they were 2-1 down having conceded just one shot on target. Both of those goals were dipped in controversy.

For the first the furious reaction of Marcelo Brozovic suggested Antoine Greizmann had ‘bought’ a free-kick by going to ground easily but it reaped its reward. Griezmann took it, swinging the ball in with Mario Mandzukic unsettled by the presence of Raphael Varane in front of him and Pogba behind.

The ball skimmed off the forward’s head and past goalkeeper Danijel Subasic who simply did not look fit and was struggling for mobility. Even then it seemed Pogba could have been given off-side although it may have been marginal. It may also have been one where he was deemed passive. Either way it was given and Mandzukic became the first player to score an own goal in a World Cup Final.

It was also the fourth time in the knock-out stages that Croatia had fallen behind but, yet again, they drew level with the kind of goal that says everything about their indefatigability. Four times in the French penalty area they won the ball, from a Modric free-kick, with Domagoj Vida finally turning it back to the outstanding Ivan Perisic who deftly pushed it away from Kante and drilled a superb, powerful left-foot shot past Hugo Lloris.

Just as with France’s first fixture of this World Cup, against Australia, VAR intervened and in their favour as Griezmann’s corner flew over Blaise Matuidi and struck the left hand of his marker, Perisic, who was close behind him. Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana bizarrely gave a goal-kick but the French players angrily demanded a penalty.

Eventually Pitana was instructed by the VAR, Italian Massimiliano Irrati, to review it and ran over to the touchline. It seemed an eternity but he returned, pointing to the penalty spot and Griezmann calmly converted. It seemed harsh - Perisic did not attempt to move his hand, could not see the ball, it was not a clear and obvious error - but Croatia were behind again.

It was also the fourth time in the knock-out stages that Croatia had fallen behind but, yet again, they drew level with the kind of goal that says everything about their indefatigability. Four times in the French penalty area they won the ball, from a Modric free-kick, with Domagoj Vida finally turning it back to the outstanding Ivan Perisic who deftly pushed it away from Kante and drilled a superb, powerful left-foot shot past Hugo Lloris.

Once more they dug deep but there was always danger and not least because France have proven themselves to be the best counter-attacking team. Twice they confirmed that. The lead was extended in a move started and ended by Pogba who sent an arcing pass out wide to Mbappe whose searing pace took him into the area. He cut the ball back to Griezmann who set up Pogba after he made up the yards. The midfielder’s first, right-footed shot lacked conviction and was blocked but his second, left-footed effort curled around Modric and beyond Subasic.

Mbappe had his moment after Lucas Hernandez broke down the left and cut the ball infield. With Vida standing off Mbappe brilliantly disguised his shot from 20-plus yards to strike it low and into the corner. Game over? Not quite yet. There was one final, memorable twist as Mandzukic chased down a Samuel Umtiti back-pass with Lloris far too casual as he tried to take the ball around the forward. Mandzukic stuck out a leg and diverted it in.

But it was not enough. As the World Cup was presented the storm broke, the heavens opened and it poured down. Not that anything was going to dampen French celebrations. From Russia with love. What a World Cup this has been and, rightly, it ends with worthy winners.

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