The curtains fell on what was quite possibly the best World Cup I have witnessed in the short time I have been here and the colours of Red, White and Blue reigned.
France came past a tenacious Belgian side boasting world beaters of their own to book their place in Moscow while Croatia stopped it from coming home, defeating England in a tight match to make it to their first ever final, which in itself is a fantastic achievement for such a young nation.
The stage was set. Players ready. France supported by the French and the Croatians, the world. The Luzhniki roared to life as the ball kicked off and we were underway. The start, cagey, as all big matches usually are. The nerves needed some calming. Both teams were having their say but the first key chance fell to France when Marcelo Brozovic gave away a free kick in a good position. Griezmann stepped up, delivered a peach of a cross and poor Mandzukic could do nothing but head it into his own net. Unlucky, but France didn’t care. They were now leading in the biggest match in football.
The Croatian heads however did not drop. This match wasn’t over. Not yet. They always knew they had to rally and rally they did, with it coming to fruition in the 28th minute when Perisic struck the ball through the French wall straight into Lloris’ net.
All Square. We start where we began.
Credit to the French team. They soaked up the Croatian pressure and chose their moments to attack. A game of chess unfolding in front of our very own eyes. Then came a decision that will be debated for decades to come. Perisic, in a hero to zero moment , allegedly, handled the ball deliberately, gifting France an opportunity to restore their lead. Griezmann did just that, coolly slotting it home from 12 yards.
A Sucker punch delivered with half time approaching.
Croatia tried but to no avail and they went into the break trailing 2-1 to a team growing in confidence.
The Croatians though were not in unfamiliar territory. They had to overcome similar situations on their road to the Finals. You had to be a brave man to put it past them. They came out with a renewed belief launching numerous attacks on the French defence. The French enclosure however was not to be breached.
Then came torment. Purgatory, as the Croatians would call it.
A lapse in concentration meant Pogba was free of any markers and he placed his shot to perfection albeit in his second attempt, giving cause for concern to his critics. Another French counter attack saw Lucas Hernandez drive forward with the ball who squared it to Mbappe in space and there could only be one outcome.
A bullet of a strike.
Kylian Mbappé , the Golden Boy. The world at his feet. He had arrived.
For the Croatians, the writing was on the wall. At 4-1, they could only hope that Lady luck graced them with her presence and that’s exactly what happened. Mario Mandzukic’s relentless pressing led to a comical error from the French goalkeeper, making it 4-2.
The Croatians had hope. They had grasped something out of thin air. They had something to cling on to.
Could this actually happen?
Do we dare to believe?
Countless attacks followed and we learnt that the answer was……
The final whistle blew.
Tears on both sides….But for very different reasons.
A game that had it all.. Own goal, Penalty, VAR, finesse, a bullet, a goalkeeping error…What else can any football fan honestly ask for?
Didier Deschamps joins the illustrious company of Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer to have won, both as a player and a coach.
France will celebrate this win for years to come. Paris won’t sleep for days. And why not? They deserved every bit of it.
However, Croatia, hold your head up high, for you have achieved something that no one ever thought you would. Comeback Kings. You’ll come back as kings, surely. You made us dream. You’ve given us something that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
The French won the Cup….But the Croatians…….
They won the world…
Thank you to Ketan Banerjee for creating this content!