If football is nothing but 22 men chasing the rawhide sphere, then art is the result of eccentric, observant men and women with a paintbrush and easel and much time to spare, while dance is all about limbs thrown around in random angles that serve no conceivable function. There is much that meets the eye, but what moves us goes beyond the physical machinations of the artiste. The game that requires hardly any equipment is played and followed with equal passion. The vagaries of it — much like life — will keep you hooked once you have fallen prey to its charm. The biggest pinnacle of football is held every four years, with the world celebrating as if it’s the second homecoming of Christ.
Workers put down their tools; armies and guerilla fighters sign a temporary truce as the globe — barring the two sides playing the game — unites, becoming one religion, one tribe celebrating the courage and vigour of the chosen few who fight for the ultimate honour.
Croatia, which has been dogged throughout, started the final in the same earnest with its players – essaying their roles and responsibilities – closing in on France early on. But this was a battle too many and finally the players' aching limbs and muscles failed to answer the calls from their heads as France slowly exerted control over its tired opponents – who had already played 90 minutes of extra football – to win its second world crown.
The Gallic nation looked hardly perturbed with ceding possession (Croatia had 61 percent of it in the first half), as it sat deep with even Kylian Mbappe, the fizzy wunderkind, coming with an early innervation to keep out a cross from Ivan Strinic, the high-flying right back. It was comfortable putting its faith in the pace and decisiveness of its counterattacks that have held it in good stead and again served it here in the final.
France benefited from a stroke of luck in the 18th minute with the FIFA World Cup 2018 seeing yet another set piece strike – 69th of this competition – as Mario Mandzukic, with his back to the goal, turned in a innocuous free-kick floated from the right by Antoine Griezmann, who had also drawn in the foul after a rare early French counter. It was the first own goal of a World Cup final and Croatia was perhaps guilty of defending a little too deep, still trying to organize its backline after the early round of its breakneck offensive play.
But the Balkan nation, always more lethal when behind in this World Cup, restored parity with a minute left for the half-hour mark with Ivan Perisic – the tireless pyro that drives this team – besting Hugo Lloris with the most powerful of left footers from the top of the box.
It was turning out to be an absorbing potboiler as the next turn of the page put the spotlight on referee Nestor Pitana, with the Argentine – clearly feeling the pressure of this action-packed finale – took his time to consult VAR to rather harshly adjudge Perisic – the hero from earlier – guilty of deliberately handling the ball inside the box. Griezmann had no trouble placing his grounder on the left bottom corner after Danijel Subasic committed early, diving to his right. It was not the ideal situation for the much talked about Video Assistant Referee, with technology getting its first big decision of a World Cup final wrong, creating yet another game-changing controversy that no contest deserves.
Croatia, not daunted by the score-line or wretched at its ill fate, tried to take things in its stride as the second half begun. It prodded and pushed, camping a majority of its players in the French half, leaving itself a little vulnerable at the other end of the pitch. Mbappe, after a pass from Paul Pogba, soon had space to exploit the gaps but Subasic came out strong to narrow the angle and then deflect the shot that followed.
There was a minor distraction as three visitors thought it prudent to take a stroll on the pitch in the middle of a World Cup final . The stewards, after the initial shock, were quick to react with the players clearly unimpressed with the unwarranted break the game was in no need of.
The valiant Croatians were to fall further behind after Pogba – taking matters onto his own feet – scored from his second attempt in the 58th minute after his first shot was blocked. Finally it looked like the Croatians were truly broken, the team clearly wrecked by its earlier exhaustions and with no energy left to conjure yet another miraculous escape act.
In the 65th minute, Mbappe – already a star – became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele in 1958 with a well placed shot from outside the box.
The goals left France a little complacent and skipper Lloris in the 69th minute was caught and punished by Mandzukic while trying some unnecessary footwork in the penalty box.
Mercifully for France and its visiting President on the stands, there were no more hiccups and a second World Cup was secured with Didier Deschamps becoming only the third – after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer – individual to win the trophy both as a player and manager.
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