For the first time since 1998, France has won the World Cup. The French took the pitch in Moscow against a surprising Croatia side, and despite the Croatian Cinderella story, France’s talent and patient approach to the game was able to win out. By the time the official blew his whistle at the end of the match, the French walked off the pitch with a 4-2 win and the second World Cup in the country’s history.
From the start, Croatia came out and did everything it could to pressure the French. Most of the match’s first 15 minutes or so occurred in France’s half of the pitch, as Croatia did everything it could to strike first. However, France’s defense — led by indomitable center backs Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane — was stout, and keeper Hugo Lloris was not tested in the match’s early going.
Eventually, France was able to get a spell of possession, and an opportunity arose for a free kick. The crafty Antoine Griezmann went down without much contact, but was able to win a free kick nonetheless. The Atletico Madrid talisman stood over the ball and fired a kick into the box, which scraped off of the head of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic and went into the back of the net in the 18th minute for the first own goal to ever occur in a World Cup Final.
France had shown an ability in its previous two matches to score a goal and defend like hell until the final whistle blew, but Croatia are masters in responding to goals by the opposition. Their answer came 10 minutes later, as Luka Modric stood over a free kick that he fired into the box. The ball bounced around until it landed at the feet of Ivan Perisic, who fired an absolute rocket with his left foot to beat Lloris.
Shortly after that, France was able to win a corner kick. Griezmann fired in a ball that bounced around and went out for a goal kick, but not before it bounced off of the hand of Perisic. The play was reviewed, a penalty kick was given, and Griezmann stepped up to challenge Danijel Subasic. Griezmann came into the Final with two goals via penalties in the tournament, while Subasic had shown a propensity for keeping the ball out during shootouts.
When the dust settled, Griezmann was able to beat Subasic and the French took a 2-1 lead.
France was able to withstand pressure from Croatia for the remainder of the first half, even as the Croatians were able to win a few corners and create chaos in the French box. Despite having 66 percent of the ball and outshooting France 7-1, Croatia found itself searching for a tying goal with the hopes of becoming the first team since 1930 to win the World Cup after trailing at the half of the Final.
The start of the second half was much of the same — Croatia dominated the ball and worked to create chances, but France would not let themselves get beaten. The French were unable to punish the Croatians for their aggressiveness on the counterattack in the early going, but all that mattered was making sure they were not beaten in the final 45 minutes.
However, in the 59th minute, France found its third. Paul Pogba released Kylian Mbappe with an absolutely outrageous ball, and while Mbappe was stopped by Subasic, the ball bounced to Griezmann at the top of the box. He laid it off for Pogba, whose world-class left footed strike Subasic never saw, which extended the French’s lead to two.
Whatever hopes Croatia had of a comeback seemed to have died several minutes later. A marauding run up the lefthand side by Lucas Hernandez set up Mbappe, and France’s 19-year-old superstar found the back of the net in the 65th minute to become the first teenager to score in a World Cup Final since Pele in 1958.
The Croatians’ indomitable spirit would not die, though, and four minutes later, a flicker of hope came. Lloris had the ball at his feet, but unrelenting pressure from Mandzukic led to a mistake by the French keeper. Suddenly, the French lead was cut to two.
In the end, though, Croatia was unable to find a third or a fourth, as the French defense would not break. It was as entertaining of a Final as you’ll see, but France’s talent ultimately won out. Two years after falling in the Final of Euro 2016 on their home soil, France was able to achieve the ultimate redemption in Russia.