By Olawale Alabi
France lived up to their promise on Sunday in Moscow by winning their second FIFA World Cup title with a 4-2 defeat of Croatia in the 2018 edition’s final match.
The 1998 winners were one of the favourites from the onset, but not all favourites reached this stage, and they were up against a pre-tournament underdog in the final match.
But, Croatia’s path to this Luzhniki Stadium was strewn with the scalps of many favourites, such as Argentina, Russia and England and they needed respect.
However, France did not fail to live up to expectations, and they were even 2-1 up by halftime, before stepping up the gear to kill off the contest midway into the second half.
After enduring Croatia’s patient and fast build-ups, France took the lead through an own goal by Mario Mandzukic, who scored Croatia’s extra-time winner over England in the semi-final.
The Juventus striker inadvertently headed home an Antoine Griezmann free-kick in the 18th minute for the first own goal in a World Cup final.
However, Croatia’s fightback was immediate and composed and Ivan Perisic scored his third goal of the tournament to draw his team level with a powerful shot 10 minutes later.
This was after France had failed to clear a Luka Modric free-kick, but more than that failure was the fact that Croatia were deadly in patiently waiting for their chances.
However, because it was already clear that it was going to be a day Croatia would have many things go against them, Perisic was then responsible for conceding a penalty kick.
It was for an handball offence, and after a VAR review Griezmann coolly converted in the 38th minute to restore the lead for France who lost to Italy in 2006.
However, France’s experience came into play in the second half as they steadfastly held on to their game plan and stifled Croatia’s midfield play orchestrated by Modric.
Croatia fought back hard but they could not b reak down the French wall, perhaps out of tiredness from having played extra time in their last three games.
Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe scored later to extend France lead and take the game beyond Croatia.
Mandzukic later benefitted from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’ error to cut the deficit in the 69th minute to make the game the highest-scoring World Cup final match over 90 minutes in 60 years, since Sweden’s World Cup.
More than the record goals, the final was also remarkable for being the first time in 60 years that a 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe scored in a World Cup Final. The then 17-year-old Pele for Brazil scored against Sweden in 1958.