One of the most compelling, yet unpredictable World Cups in history came to a close on Sunday in the Russian city of Moscow. After a month of ups and downs, it came down to an unlikely match up. The fact that France made it to the final is no shock. They are one of the better teams in the world of soccer. But their counterparts Croatia will have been a shocker. The Croats have always had classy players, but the size of their country has usually held them back along with inconsistency. Neither of those things got in the way this year, and it set us up with a true David against Goliath looking battle to the neutral eye.
The match itself got off to a great start for the Croats, with them controlling the possession and tempo for the opening 15 minutes. However, possession is not nine-tenths of the law in soccer. France would score first after a free kick skipped off their own striker Mario Mandzukic for an own goal. But, in typical Croatia fashion, they fought back. They had trailed in each of the other three knockout matches (against Denmark, hosts Russia, and England), and they came back. This happened here as well with Ivan Perisic drilling in a left-footed equalizer to make it 1-1 before 30 minutes had gone. That score already made it one of the more entertaining finals in memory.
Despite Croatia dominating the play, France’s direct style continued to trouble Croatia. Less than five minutes later, it earned a corner and that then led to a penalty shout. It would go to VAR (instant replay), and the officials decided to give them a penalty for handball. Up would step Antoine Griezmann, who once again had given Les Bleus a lead, 2-1 this time around. In order to lift the trophy, Croatia would have to come back from the brink yet again.
The pattern of the game continued for the first 15 minutes after half time, but Croatia’s legs began to tire and France’s quality shown as Paul Pogba hammered home at the second attempt to make it 3-1. Just minutes later, Kylian Mbappe scored to make it 4-1. Only an idiotic blunder by French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made it seem as if Croatia had a chance. France had won the World Cup Final, their second of all-time in the highest scoring final since 1958.
In the end, Croatia having played a full match more (thanks to three overtimes in previous rounds) added up. France, who had played pragmatic and hard to beat, saw their strategy pay off in the end. They were tough to score on generally, and their stars stepped up in the big moments. No other team was even close to them in this tournament, and it will be interesting to see which one of them is awarded the Golden Ball for best player.