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France again after 20 years

Paul Pogba wanted his own star and 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe wanted to make an everlasting impression on his World Cup debut. Their wishes were granted as France lifted the World Cup with a 4-2 win against Croatia in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow yesterday.

Both Pogba and Mbappe actually settled the fate of the final even before it had progressed to the last quarter, scoring the third and fourth goals respectively in the space of six minutes after the break. Mbappe won the best young player award, an achievement that matched the feat of great Brazilian striker Pele.

For Croatia captain Luka Modric the golden ball was there to proudly aloft. He raised it up amidst thunderous applause from the stands; it was not necessarily only Croatian voices that cheered. But his stony face only portrayed the visage of a heartbroken man who watched from a distance amidst pouring rain as France danced with that glittering piece of glory.

France are deserving winners. True, they were under pressure in the first half and they may have been a bit lucky to win a penalty. But they showed the quality of true champions and mercilessly hit their opponents on the break, which Croatia failed to negotiate.

It was a story of two contrasting halves. Croatia were on the ascendency in the first 45 minutes while it France asserted control after the break. When Argentine referee Nestor Pitana blew the final whistle, the most powerful image was Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps being toasted by his young charges. Deschamps truly built the bridge after 20 years. He won it in 1998, France’s first-ever World Cup triumph. And after the disappointment in the Euro final two years ago when they lost to Portugal, the France legend guaranteed another moment of national pride.

France were lucky to take the lead against the run of play, with Croatia not only starting brightly but also dictating possession. The pall possession ratio of 68-32 in Croatia’s favour was reflected in the stands, where the red-and-white stripes overwhelmingly dominated the blues.

Croatia got the deserved equaliser in the 28th minute with Ivan Perisic firing in a scorching left-footer. It was originated from another dead-ball situation after Perisic won a free kick about 35 yards from the French goal. Modric lobbed an intelligent ball wide where Sime Vrsaljko headed it across the penalty area. It dropped for Perisic, who made a little space before unleashing an unstoppable diagonal drive into the bottom right-hand corner.

The third goal came after a lot of deliberation and the referee had to take the assistance of VAR, which ruled Perisic had handled the ball in the forbidden zone. Griezmann was again the initiator with a corner from the same corner flag. N’golo Kante headed it at the near post which struck the stretched hand of Perisic, though unintentionally. Griezmann stepped up to convert the penalty, sending Danijel Subasic the other way.

France went into the lemon break with a fortuitous 2-1 lead. But they returned only to bury the game beyond doubt with Pogba and Mbappe finding the net in the space of six minutes and that too after a pitch invasion by members of Pussy Riot that stopped the final for a few minutes.

Pogba increased the lead in the 59th minute from a rebound after his first attempt was blocked. It was then the turn of Mbappe to become only the second youngest player after Pele to score a goal in the final. The 19-year-old France prodigy drove a spectacular low shot after a little shimmy on the top of the box.

Hugo Lloris’s blunder in the 69th minute allowed Croatia to make it 4-2. The France captain unnecessarily waited with the ball before Mandzukic closed in on him and poked the ball into the net as the goalkeeper was trying to cut across him. But that goal served only as a consolation for Croatia, who turned up in their maiden final with great expectations but once against came unstuck against a team they lost 2-0 to in the semifinal 20 years ago.