A WC final to remember: FRA 🇫🇷 v CRO 🇭🇷

A TV broadcasting a charged match featuring the French national team in the corner of a bar; not football, it’s the 2007 Rugby World Cup. I never really offered much attention to the sport prior to then, but what the hell, when in Rome (or France in my case). I sat at the table attempting to figure out the rules; friends put their best efforts in to assist me, but most importantly, the atmosphere and game action were intense: the timing to be in France was perfect. Well, unless I time-hopped back to 1998 to witness the French football team win their first World Cup.

Today an even better day to watch a game on a pub TV in Mulhouse; France playing Croatia in the World Cup final – 2018 edition. My heart always with Les Bleus, unless Spain or the United States are playing. Croatia gave me so much to cheer for this tournament, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

I awoke before the game (8:00 AM kick off in Los Angeles), drank my water, and immediately brewed up a Nespresso coffee to sip from an espresso mug. In 2007 the day after my flight landed at Mulhouse’s airport, which they share with Basel, a my friend and I departed the train station for her hometown. Along the way, we had one stop in order to switch trains and I drank my first coffee in France. I barely kept it down – the strength was overwhelming. Cheers to you Emilie!

Watching the pregame, however, did present the game more like (at least for me) no matter who won, the football world triumphs. So many Croatian players, including their leader, Modric, struggled as refugees to arrive at this point. They walk as heroes forever.

First Half Thoughts

Croatia began this final proving to any doubters that they truly belong in this match-up. The first ten minutes were a masterclass for the men in checkered shirts. France started the game a bit frantic, playing advantage to a Croatian team with tired legs after three consecutive games that went to extra time. Perišić and Croatia really tested the French right back, Pavard, doing everything but score a goal.

To Deschamps’ credit, France possessing the ball not necessarily part of the game plan, but they awaited their opportunity, which the first came from a Griezmann set piece. This opened the game for France, which they capitalized with a beautiful strike in the 19th minute which glided off the head of Croatian forward Mario Mandžukić. The foul was questionable, and Mandžukić (possibly Croatia’s best player in the half) was a bit unlucky to give France the lead on an own-goal.

Croatia never allowed that to unsettle them, forcing Ngolo Kante to pickup a yellow card early by putting him in a position to give up a set piece. Within ten minutes of France’s opener, Croatia equalize with a phenomenal strike from Ivan Perišić in minute 29.

VAR appeared for the first time in a World Cup final in the 35th minute – after the referee first declaring a cleared corner a goal kick, the Argentinian reviewed the decision, and later determined Perišić’s hand was in an unnatural position in the penalty area, thus conceding the first penalty of the World Cup final. With Griezmann at the penalty spot, the goal seemed inevitable: France 2 – Croatia 1.

The first half ended with fire. The Croatians play with a grit unmatched by many others. They were down by score, but statistically they’d been the much superior team. Of course, as they say, the only statistic that matters is the score, and France carried that category into the locker room at half.

Second Half Thoughts

The second half picked up where the first left off, but if possible, more fire. Within two minutes of play, both goalkeepers were forced to make saves in an end-to-end bit of play. Within five minutes, Croatia earned two corners really pressing the French defense, who seem cool under the pressure, but keeping their fans’ nerves on edge – no doubt.

With the back and forth play and an open game, it was completely ruined by a group of spectators (I won’t call them fans) who charged the field to put an end to a Croatian counter-attack.

France made a tactical change in minute 54, pulling Kante, who had a yellow card, for Steven “Not Kondogbia” Nzonzi; Kante arguably the most impressive player of this tournament.

Not to worry, they still fielded Paul Pogba, who four minutes later had his initial shot blocked but deflected back to his feet, and with a second chance, made the most of it: France 3 – Croatia 1. This all began with a wide open pass to Mbappé, who, streaking down the right side, completely opened up play in the middle. Mbappé’s speed and skill threaten defenses immensely, and ignoring him is not an option.

You’d think things would really begin to unravel after that goal. Neymar’s coming out party, was clearly put to bed when Mbappé scored France’s fourth goal; given space at the top of the penalty box, there was no chance to deny the young phenom. The hearts and spirits of the Croatians would crushed in that moment: France 4 – Croatia 1.

That is until Lloris’ howler of an assist to Mario Mandžukić to put Croatia within two; hope reinstalled, but short lived. If France can get 100% credit for one thing this tournament, it’s their ability to win games. They did that today, Croatia were a great adversary, and in truth, the final score does little to indicate how this match felt.

France claiming their second World Cup crown and earning that second star on their shirt felt fitting. Loaded with young talent, they will be a top contender for a number of years to come so long as health accompanies them.

Well done France, Allez Les Bleus!

Final Thoughts

This World Cup created so many memories, so much heartbreak, and so much entertainment. The United States failing to qualify dampened the tournament, but only slightly. This was by far one of the most entertaining World Cups of my lifetime, and it’ll be difficult to forget it. Part of the tournament I spent in Canada and another part on a road trip throughout California, but the excitement gave me enough reason to pull aside in moments on the road and tune in.

Until next time, Amunt!

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