France vs Croatia World Cup final: A crash course on what makes football so addictive

first_imgIf Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Croatia was the first football game you ever watched, rest assured that you sat through a crash course in the heady mix of athleticism, emotional vicissitude and controversy that makes this game so intoxicating.The French won 4-2, despite surrendering an early lead in the first half. Among the the six goals scored in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium — more goals, by the way, than in the four previous finals combined (excluding shootouts) — was an own goal, a penalty that many will say shouldn’t have been awarded, and a trio of truly sublime finishes.”Twenty years later, France are world champions,” proclaimed the Figaro newspaper’s lead web story minutes after the win. Indeed, two decades ago in Paris, it was Didier Deschamps, France’s coach, who held aloft the coveted, gilded prize; he captained the side that beat Ronaldo’s Brazil in 1998. And while Jacques Chirac, then the French president, didn’t have to go far from the Elysée Palace to take part in his nation’s moment of glory, Emmanuel Macron crossed a time zone or two to root for Les Bleus.Macron will fly back on cloud nine, but he and the rest of his compatriots had to endure some pretty nervy moments: First, Ivan Perisic cancelled out Mandzukic’s own-goal with a superb equaliser, popping any ballooning French hopes of a lazy stroll in the park.2018 FIFA WORLD CUP: FULL COVERAGEThen came the penalty. There was a clear handball in Croatia’s box, but the question was: was it intentional? The referee peered long and hard at the VAR screen, and then took another quick peek before announcing his decision. Antoine Griezmann scored for France.advertisementBut even after goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe (who is 19, and hadn’t yet been born when France last won the World Cup), Mandzukic had enough energy and belief to force Lloris, France’s goalkeeper, into making a bizarre mistake. With the ball at his feet, the Frenchman attempted a surprise left turn to wrong-foot the charging striker. He failed, and gifted the Croatians a second goal. Thankfully for him, it would be their last.France beat Croatia 4-2 to become FIFA World Cup 2018 championsSometime in the middle of all this — as if there wasn’t already enough drama — security personnel had to deal with a pitch invasion. Phew.It will be hard to console Croatia, despite the fact that they have a lot to be proud of. Take for instance, their 3-0 win against Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the group stages, or their recoveries after going behind in all three of their previous knockout games — against Denmark, Russia and England. But only time can heal the would left by the loss of the rarest of prizes — one that came within grasping distance, and came there despite staggering odds.FIFA World Cup 2018: Full list of prize winnersBut one day, perhaps, when age has soothed Mario Mandzukic’s gnawing regret, someone — maybe a young Croatian schoolboy — will ask him why he chose a career in football. And without uttering a word in reply, the striker can play him a recording of the 2018 final, every heart-stopping moment of it — so he can see for himself.last_img

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