WORLD CUP 2018: FRANCE BEAT CROATIA IN AN ENTHRALLING FINAL OF AN INCREDIBLE COMPETITIONDate: 2018-07-16
France's climatic 4-2 victory over Croatia in the World Cup final at Russia's Luzhniki Stadium was the perfect end to a thrilling tournament.
Over the last month, Russia played host to the world, delivering an outstanding competition that will surely go down in history as of one of the most exciting tournaments of the beautiful game in the modern era of the sport.
French coach, Didier Deschamps, will certainly feel redeemed after losing the final of Euro 2016 to Portugal on home territory in Paris. France appeared to have everything going for them on that mild July evening at the Stade de France, from being favourites to the home support, and then the early injury to Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo that forced him off in tears.
But it was not to be. Deschamps was accused of being too conservative while his players seemed to choke around him while Portugal dug deep to win in extra time.
For Deschamps, delivering football's greatest trophy to Paris was simply the only way to heal France's scars.
And they did it in style, winning the tournament with a combination of all-around power and efficiency and a light sprinkling of magic that exposes talent that makes the crucial difference at the top.
Despite his lapse in concentration and conceding Croatia's second goal, Hugo Lloris is regarded as one of the world's best goalkeepers, bolstered by the central defensive partnership of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, they are a trio that can cope with their opponents best attacks.
Controlling the midfield, N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba may have almost conflicting styles but find common ground and control play even when they're off the ball. This combination of defence and midfield certainly lay the foundation for a formidable team but it's up front where France excelled.
Antoine Griezmann is world-class, with lots of big occasions with Atletico Madrid under his belt. He's cunning, with bursts of speed and a relentless hunger in front of goal. It's Kylian Mbappe who really made the biggest impression though. He's just 19-years-old and will be one of the greats.
Lionel Messi may have one more World Cup in him, and Christiano Ronaldo's hunger for the game is clearly evident, so we expect more football from them for a while. Eventually, though, their footballing obituaries will be penned and it will be Mbappe who will take the baton from them.
When he put a low finish past Croatia keeper Danijel Subasic for France's final goal, Mbappe became the second youngest goalscorer in a World Cup final, just 19 years and 207 days. The youngest you ask? That would be way back in 1958 when Pele was 17 years and 248 days. And he became, arguably, the worlds finest footballer.
Mbappe has thrilling pace, can finish brilliantly, exudes a youthful charm and has a remarkably mature temperament that will lead him to greatness alongside others like Brazil's Neymar as future football legends.
World Cup 2018: Drama all the way
Russia's World Cup was a feast of drama right until the very end. A splendid final, including a second-half pitch invasion by Russian punk band Pussy Riot in the final, followed by a presentation ceremony that looked like a scene from a Holywood blockbuster. A thunderous rainstorm with bursts of lightning crashing around the Luzhniki Stadium as president Vladimir Putin, protected by an umbrella, met players and officials.
To Putin's left, an ecstatic French president, Emmanuel Macron, appeared oblivious to the heavy downpour as he celebrated, embracing each player as they passed him. His Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, wearing her national team kit as always, was a mixture of tears, smiles and big hugs in defeat.
For all the apprehensions regarding Russia's underlying political situation, this was a wonderful World Cup. In the context of sport, this competition went off with barely a hitch.
It was a whirlwind of emotions too. From the shock exit of holders Germany at the group stage to Argentina losing to France in the last 16, and then Brazil fall to Belgium in a classic quarter-final, it held us in suspense throughout.
Then, there were the surprises. The hosts, from no-hopers before the World Cup, reached the quarter-final by beating Spain on penalties in the last 16, before losing to Croatia in the same fashion in the quarter-final.
It was a run that electrified the country and simply added another level of gloss and excitement to the World Cup.
And then there were the runners-up. Croatia may have stumbled at the finish line but Luka Modric, their 32-year-old midfielder, found himself as the tournament's most outstanding player. He was undoubtedly their most important playmaker, creating chances and dictating the pace of the games, a gentleman of true masterclass and, although bittersweet, deserved of the Fifa Golden Ball as player of the tournament.
Bittersweet for Harry Kane too?
Although already home in Birmingham after England's defeat to Belgium, who claimed third place, Kane received one last piece of good news. With six goals to his name, he received the World Cup Golden Boot, only the second Englishman to do so.
England concluded their tournament by making their mark on the World Cup once more, reaching the semi-finals before finishing fourth. Not the result they were fighting for but, considering they're quite a young team, they may end up quite a formidable team leading up to the next tournament in four years time.