France overcome chaos to rule the world

Make sense of it all? Maybe there was no sense to be found in it at all.

France overcome chaos to rule the world


By Joe Callaghan

Make sense of it all? Maybe there was no sense to be found in it at all.

On a steamy Sunday afternoon in a corner of Moscow the weather gods tried to break through with bolts of lightning and blasts of thunder. But you could only hear them for all of four minutes and so the gods gave up until the suits had flooded into the place and then they opened the skies above them.

A form of silence had only fallen on the Luzhniki Stadium between the 65th and 69th minutes of a contest that swung from breathtaking to bizarre and back again.

It was then that France briefly threatened to turn it all a bit ugly. Perhaps Hugo Lloris is not fond of thunder and lightning. When the silence fell he decided to take matters into his own hands and gift Croatia another way back into the game by inexplicably turning Mario Mandzukic into the scorer of both a negative goal and a positive one too.

It brought all the noise rushing back into the place but ultimately counted for precious little, another footnote on a day when you’d fill a book with them.

On the cover of that book will be Lloris, but not in his moment of calamity. He and France will be remembered in their rain-soaked moment of glory, torrential drops and twists of gold confetti tumbling from the skies as the captain raised the trophy aloft.

The dignitaries had made for dry land and left the place clear for Didier Deschamps’ side who were champions and deserving champions at that.

They’d scored four goals in a World Cup final and won it by two and yet still you looked down on their celebrations and wondered why that was the most vibrant they’d been all month. Of course it’s because that’s when they’d won the damn thing.

But in its winning why hadn’t they shown a similar brand of positive energy? Because, they’ll say, they didn’t have to.

They were brutally and brilliantly pragmatic and it was enough to deliver their second world crown, enough to deliver Deschamps up into the pantheon alongside Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer who also lifted it as captain and coach, enough to give us the glorious moments of Paul Pogba’s delicious third goal here and the one that followed when Kylian Mbappe moved into another pantheon alongside Pele. Enough. Always enough.

Maybe more than enough. We may be asking too much. But when this contest and with it the destination of the hardware had swung so dramatically on what looked a fiercely harsh maybe even flawed refereeing decision, we were always likely to ask for that bit more.

Croatia had been the underdogs and the fairytale in one and they had played the first half’s best football. In return they’d been served nothing close to justice with two goals that hung on questionable decisions.

For the game’s opener on 18 minutes Antoine Griezmann fooled Nestor Pitana with a dive that won the free-kick that he whipped in and skimmed off Mandzukic’s scalp and past Danijel Subasic. Croatia were in an early hole again but dug their way out again the only way they know how — sharp, incisive passing, relentless running and a well of belief. Mandzukic helped them level, setting up Ivan Perisic for his equaliser 10 minutes later.

But another 10 minutes on, Croatia were again hard done by. Perisic had indeed handled Griezmann’s corner but he looked to be in the process of lowering it out of the way rather than raising it intentionally. VAR was introduced to correct “clear and obvious mistakes” and this was neither but Griezmann tucked away the penalty.

“I never comment on refereeing but let me say one sentence — in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Zlatko Dalic afterwards. “In the first six games we may have been favoured by luck but tonight maybe not.”

The only luck that came their way in the second-half arrived from the feet of Lloris or more accurately at the part of the brain that controls the feet. A brain freeze even on this sweltering day. But the game was already beyond Croatia at that point thanks to Pogba’s delicious third on the hour, curled in from the edge of the box and Mbappe’s historic fourth soon after, a low rifled shot that deceived Subasic. Before all of that, there’d been Pussy Riot’s pitch invasion and the equally unorthodox sight of N’Golo Kante being removed on 53 minutes. Again, sense was in short supply on this Sunday.

“Of course we’re all sad but I told [my players] hold your heads up high,” Dalic added, bringing some order to proceedings. “We’ve given our all and you have to be proud. On our bus there is a slogan — small country with big dreams. That’s a good message for all.”

There are plenty of good messages in blue too. They are worthy world champions who have a range of gears they can move into from here. Now that the first title has come their way, Deschamps may be more inclined to shift on up. Their spine is littered with young but giant talents who could well turn this victory into the starting point of a dynasty like or even beyond that of Spain’s 2008-12 run.

“How marvellous,” said Deschamps in a post-match interview on the pitch before his team had even raised their prize. “It’s a young team, who are on the top of the world.

“Some are champions at the age of 19. We did not play a huge game but we showed mental quality. And we scored four goals anyway.”

Maybe sense is overrated. Russia’s World Cup had little of it but France and Deschamps still managed to make enough sense of it all to conquer the rest.

We should salute them for that much and plenty more.

FRANCE: Lloris 6; Pavard 6, Varane 7, Umtiti 8, Hernandez 6; Pogba 8, Kanté 5 (Nzonzi 55 6), Matuidi 6 (Tolisso 73); Mbappé 7, Giroud 6 (Fekir 81), Griezmann 7.

CROATIA: Subasic 6; Vrsaljko 6, Lovren 6, Vida 7, Strinic 7 (Pjaca 81); Rakitic 7, Modric 8, Brozovic 6; Perisic 8, Mandzukic 6, Rebic 6 (Kramaric 71).

Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina)

Attendance: 78,011

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