The 2018 FIFA World Cup drew to a close today and both France and Croatia provided fans and neutrals alike with a fantastic cap to what has been a great tournament.
Croatia answered with two goals of their own but ultimately could not prevent France from putting four past their defense, ending their fairytale run to the final. France on the other hand, went one step further than they could manage at Euro 2016 and this time, had the firepower to put away a stubborn defense.
Both teams display attacking prowess in the first half
It didn't take long for the two teams to set the stage as, although this was the World Cup final, neither side was content to just sit back and soak up the pressure. Both teams were tactically astute but did not rely on deep defensive lines as counter measures to their opponents. France got the opening goal they would have wanted in the 18th minute through a set piece. Antoine Griezmann sent in a great free kick towards Raphaël Varane but it was Mario Mandžukić who got the touch on the ball that diverted it past his own goalkeeper and into the net. Croatia, as they had done in previous matches, were not phased by conceding and came back on level terms in the 28th minute when Ivan Perišić riffled home a fantastic volley past Hugo Lloris.
Things then got incredibly intriguing when in the 34th minute, referee Néstor Pitana decided to award France a penalty after a handball by Perišić. The Argentine referee had initially waved play on but after use of VAR, he then decided that Perišić's hand was in an unnatural position and thus, committed a foul inside the penalty area. Griezmann stepped and up and sent Danijel Subašić the wrong way, putting France back into the lead.
Mbappé and Pogba light up the second half
Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé had popped up at various times in the tournament to give France the vital goal of attacking threat they needed to overcome whoever they were facing. Against a Croatian side that had proven to be a resilient and strong second-half team, both Mbappé and Pogba turned on the style to insure that France would leave with the World Cup trophy today.
In the 59th minute, Mbappé's run led to Griezmann laying off the ball for Pogba to strike from just outside the area. His initial shot was blocked but Pogba reacted quickest, reaching his rebound first and curling the ball past a stranded Subašić. Mbappé then got the goal his play had deserved in the 65th minute as France broke quickly and found space against a retreating Croatia. Mbappé picked up the ball about 35 yards away from goal and thundered home a great shot that nestled into the corner of the net. Croatia pulled one back four minutes later when Lloris was caught on the ball by Mandžukić and the ball deflected into the goal but it wasn't enough to bring Croatia back into the game.
France sat back and allowed Croatia to control possession but made sure to keep the ball far away from their net for the remainder of the second half. Despite a valiant effort, and tournament, Croatia could not prevent France from lifting the World Cup trophy again for the first time since 1998. Luka Modrić despite being on the losing team today, was awarded the Golden Ball while Mbappé received the honour of being named the Best Young Player at the tournament.