World Cup 2018: Clear-headed France a cut above the glorious madness of Russia 2018

The true gift of the 2018 World Cup was how it delivered the twists, turns and irresistible romance that often escapes modern club football.

Published : Jul 16, 2018 13:08 IST

(From left) France's Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Florian Thauvin with the World Cup trophy.
(From left) France's Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Florian Thauvin with the World Cup trophy.

(From left) France's Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Florian Thauvin with the World Cup trophy.

Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe scored superbly after half-time to decisively knock a relentless Croatia off their stride, in the thrilling finale a wonderful 2018 World Cup deserved.

Antoine Griezmann created the first goal and converted a controversial penalty for France's second on his way to picking up the man-of-the-match award at the end of a pulsating 4-2 win.

Read: Deschamps redeemed as France wins World Cup final for the ages

Pogba, Mbappe and Griezmann – all superstars of the world game – showed the cream had risen to the top at the last. But what a marvellous, delicious and unforgettable trifle they have had to negotiate.

France's newly crowned heroes, majestic Golden Ball winner Luka Modric and most of the tournament's stand out performers reside at Europe's elite clubs.

Soon we will be back to that high-end treadmill of the "big five" divisions and the Champions League.

Modric and Real Madrid are chasing a fourth European title in a row; Bayern Munich their seventh consecutive Bundesliga; Juventus an eighth straight Scudetto; Paris Saint-Germain a sixth Ligue 1 out of seven and Barcelona an eighth La Liga of 11.

Manchester City is challenged to become the first Premier League team to retain its title since 2009 but the gulf between the haves and have-nots in England's top-flight gives a slightly more varied strain of predictability.

Also read: Modric says Golden Ball 'bittersweet' after World Cup defeat

On a weekly basis from August onwards, we will gluttonously consume a diet of blockbuster football – the highest-paid elite performers starring in multi-million-dollar productions to dazzle viewers unable to avert their eyes, even if they broadly know where the script is heading.

Compare and contrast with Russia 2018 and how it was so often a gloriously unhinged free-for-all.

A supposedly hopeless host nation got underway with a raucous 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia on the opening day of a party four-time winners Italy was unable to attend.

Spain and Portugal served up a 3-3 classic for the ages in Sochi during a heady first week, when a match did not really seem to count if one of the benches failed to empty en masse in celebration of last-minute drama.

From antics to theatrics: Five World Cup moments

Sacking manager Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup arguably saw Spain set the madcap tone, but surely it and Portugal would endure through sheer weight of quality? Both were gone before the quarterfinals.

Holders Germany was dumped out at the group stage as captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer flailed about on the left wing, while its old rivals England won an actual penalty shoot-out the following week and beer-soaked hordes dreamed football might just come home. What on earth was going on?

The gaps that cannot be bridged at the top of club football are ones to be leapt across at international level, whether it is the wily veteran Oscar Tabarez enjoying the fruits of the brilliant Uruguay youth setup he masterminded or minnows Iceland pegging back Argentina – Lionel Messi left beneath the rubble of a rabble as the greatest prize eluded him for probably the final time.

Belgium won the hearts of romantics by producing a stunning comeback to knock out a vibrant Japan before dispatching favourites Brazil on the way to a third-place finish, as the mercurial Eden Hazard led 10 different goalscorers.

Head coach Roberto Martinez, having belatedly ditched the mayhem-inducing ploy that was Yannick Carrasco at wing-back, ran into the cold-headed pragmatism that usually prevails at the business end. France extinguished the Red Devils' attacking fury and strong-armed them to a 1-0 semifinal defeat.

Didier Deschamps was not about to suffer his Euro 2016 misery all over again. Get in front; lock it down. History beckoned for the man who lifted football's most famous trophy as a player in 1998.

It is therefore to the credit of Modric and his inspired band of comeback kings that they drew a France side who largely operated above the fray into the madness. Pogba and Mbappe revelled there in the final frame of a picture-perfect World Cup.

France's implausibly gifted generation will be a good bet to defend their crown in a surreal, mid-season jamboree by the desert four-and-a-half-years from now. Then in 2026, FIFA's dream of a bloated 48-team slog will become reality.

Thank you to Griezmann, Mbappe, Modric and the rest. We may never have it this good again.

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