France’s first goal came off a Croatian’s head. The second was scored with the aid of the Argentine referee, and became the first video-assistant-reviewed goal in World Cup history.
But the next two — hard low shots by the young French stars Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé — confirmed what everyone knew even before France polished off its 4-2 victory on Sunday: France was the best team in the field this summer in Russia, and for that reason its team — a potent mix of greatness, grit and good fortune — is the world champion again.
The title is France’s second and the first since it won on home soil in 1998, and it ended a thrilling run by Croatia. The Croats survived three consecutive extra-time games and two penalty shootouts to reach their first final, and they even had the better of the game on Sunday.
But France fought Croatia off when it had to and punished it when it could. And when the final whistle blew, its players raced off the bench in glee, gathered in jumping hugs and shared embraces with their coach, Didier Deschamps, a midfielder on the 1998 team who became the third man to win the World Cup as a player and head coach.
This France team will not be remembered as the most elegant champions, or the most creative. But what it achieved — through diligent planning, hard work, relentless discipline and the occasional brilliance of Mbappé and others — was remarkable nonetheless. France was not so much great as fundamentally good: a team of outstanding talents willing to surrender possession and strike on the counter; a team capable of scoring superb goals but also willing to accept whatever it was given.
France 2018 – Even on Sunday, it surrendered possession willingly to Croatia’s talented midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic in the first half — and still came out ahead. Presented with chances in the second half thanks to Mbappé’s unmatched speed and skill, it turned one break into Pogba’s goal and a second into Mbappé’s. Not even bad luck of its own, like a blunder that handed Croatia its second goal, came with any real price. France merely regrouped and saw the game out, and then waited, snapping selfies and waving flags, to pick up its golden reward.
The French scored first, or rather Croatia did — with striker Mario Mandzukic heading a free kick over his goalkeeper in the 18th minute. Stunned, Croatia tied the match 10 minutes later through Perisic, but soon was behind again in a moment both historic and controversial.
The incident came in the 35th minute, when a ball served into the box tipped off a French player and onto the hand of Perisic, who did not seem to see it arriving. The Argentine referee, Nelson Pitana, initially signaled a corner kick. But as France’s players appealed for a penalty, Pitana awarded a corner.
The V.A.R. system, approved controversially earlier this year for use in its first World Cup, had performed above expectations in the tournament. Pitana went to the sideline between the benches and, with the V.A.R. in his ear, scrolled through the play before returning to the field to signal a penalty kick for a handball.
The France striker Antonie Griezmann stepped up and calmly rolled the ball in, and just like that history was made and the French were back in front.
Pogba, controlling his own rebound to score in the 59th minute, and Mbappé, firing through a screen in the 65th, soon made the goal a footnote. A blunder by France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who tapped a clearance off a pressuring Mandzukic and into his own net four minutes later, gave the Croatians a lifeline. But France, as it has in most of its games at this World Cup, sent on a few substitutes and simply strangled the life out of the game to complete its triumph.
When it ended, the French players flew off their bench and gathered in two tight huddles near midfield. The French coaches swarmed Deschamps into what became a hug involving about a dozen men.
The Croatians fell to the turf and began to cry. They soon rose, to the cheers and the salutes of the heavily pro-Croatia crowd, but it was not their day.
It was a day for Deschamps. And Pogba. And Mbappé. It was a day for France to celebrate a new generation of heroes, and to hope it will not be 20 more years before they can do it again.
The Trophy Presentation
The FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, emerged for the trophy presentation alongside Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin; Croatia’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic; and France’s Emmanuel Macron. Croatia’s Luka Modric won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, and Kylian Mbappé was honored as the tournament’s best young player. (England’s Harry Kane won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer, drawing boos from a crowd heavy with Croatians and neutral Russian fans. His boos, however, were nothing compared to those for Nestor Pitana, the referee.)
France’s team made a guard of honor for the Croatians during the trophy ceremony, and handshakes were freely exchanged among a group that included at least a dozen current and former teammates. By the time the Croatians picked up their medals, a steady rain had turned into a downpour. Only one umbrella emerged above the dignitaries, to shield Putin.
Here’s how France beat Croatia in the World Cup final:
FULL TIME: FRANCE WINS!
France has won its second World Cup and first away from home!
Standouts for France in its victory: Paul Pogba advanced the ball 153 meters in the game (and got a goal too). Benjamin Pavard had 11 clearances, many when Croatia was looking very threatening.
90’ +5: Deschamps’s Glory
Mario Zagallo, Brazil. Franz Beckenauer, Germany. And now Didier Deschamps is on the verge of becoming the third man to coach and play for a World Cup winner.
France is booting the ball upfield and watching the clock.
90’ +1: France Ready to Celebrate
Five minutes of extra time before France can grab the trophy.
90’: Killing Time
France gets a free kick at midfield, which mostly is of benefit to kill time. Five minutes of injury time to come.
89’: France Sits Back
Croatia continues to dominate possession, as France sits back. Rakitic tries a couple of very long-distance shots, but they go high.
84’: Pogba Stays Down
Pogba down in a heap after that free kick, and Croatia’s fans are absolutely certain he’s milking time off the clock. They may not be wrong; France has done a ton of this in ushering out other teams.
83’: Free Kick for Croatia
Croatia tries to quick-play a free kick after a Pogba foul, but Nestor Pitana wasn’t ready so he calls it back. The Croatians are decidedly unhappy with his decision, and the cross is too deep — and wasted.
81’: Chance for Croatia
Marko Pjaca nearly runs on to a ball in the box for his first touch, but it’s juuuuusssst a bit too far, and he can’t keep it in.
80’: Subs for Both Teams
Th last French sub (at least in regulation time): Nabil Fekir comes on for Giroud, who has done some hard work today on the defensive side.
Croatia make a sub too: forward Marko Pjaca for Strinic, the left back.
79’: Record in Reach
The six goals today are the most in a World Cup final since 1966, when England won 4-2 after extra time. The 1958 final, a 5-2 Brazil victory over Sweden, would be the last total higher than six in regular time.
Victor Mather: While 19-year-old Mbappé’s goal was one to remember, it does not set a record. A 17-year-old has actually scored in a World Cup Final, in 1958, for Brazil against Sweden. That player? Pele.
78’: Croatia Needs Some Magic
A lot of nice build-up for Croatia yields an off-target shot. They can’t afford to waste either time or that kind of effort at this point. They need to be more efficient.
75’: France Stuck in Neutral
France is breaking things up nicely but can’t seem to get out of its own half.
73’: Matuidi Comes Off for France
Corentin Tollisso on for Matuidi now for France, as they make a change, too.
71’: Change for Croatia
Andrej Kramaric, another forward, on for Rebic, the midfielder, as Croatia needs a bit more up front than he was giving.
70’: New Life for Croatia
It was just starting to look very grim for Croatia, with France piling it on. But what was Lloris thinking there? He played that way too slow, and way to casually, and got punished badly.
We’ve really seen some strange goals today, but that one’s the leader for sure.
69’ GOAL! Lloris Gives One Back
Disaster for France, but mostly for Lloris: lazily trying to touch the ball around a pressing Mandzukic, he instead plays it right off the forward’s foot and right back past him into his net.
65’: GOAL! FRANCE AGAIN!
Kylian Mbappé this time, and it’s getting away at 4-1. Hernandez did a good job getting him a ball at the top of the penalty area and, using Vida as a screen, he pulls a shot left and past Subasic, who is left no chance.
62’: France Gets Fancy
Phenomenal inventiveness from Mbappé there to try to bicycle a loose ball to a teammate. It’s cleared for a corner, and the chance dies.
61’: Pogba’s Goal
That’s Pogba’s first goal of the World Cup, but it’s enormous. For him. For France. And for the referee, Pitana, since the penalty isn’t the difference as it stands right now.
Victor Mather: Pogba plays in a more reserved role for France than for Manchester United, doing more of the set-up work (15 passes and four clearances in this game) and getting a little less of the glory. But he scored a classic midfielder’s goal there, arriving on the scene and finishing the job.
61’ GOAL! France!
Paul Pogba makes it 3-1.
Kylian Mbappé did a lot of the work there on the right, dragging Strinic down deep after getting in behind. He cut the ball back to Griezmann near the spot, but he couldn’t control it. He juggled once and laid it off for Pogba.
His first shot was blocked, but no one reacted to the rebound when it lay there invitingly, and he stepped up and buried the second chance.
58’: Croatia Moving Ahead
Croatia pressing again, this time through Perisic on the right. But his cross sails on him, and the chance is wasted. Croatia’s lack of pace up front demands better than that.
55’ France Substitution
Steven Nzonzi on for N’Golo Kanté, who trudges off. He doesn’t look happy, but you have to wonder if that’s an injury and not just worries about the yellow. Tough to tell, and Deschamps whispering in his ear on the way back to the bench seems to imply it might be the latter.
Either way, Kanté is a big loss for France. Nzonzi can do the same job, but he’s not as good at it. This will ask more of Pogba in that role too now.
52’: Fans on the Field
Disturbance on the field as four people run onto the field from the Croatia end. They’re dressed in what looked like suits and hats, and somehow slipped through a rings of security guards. A couple got all the way to midfield, which is really not good. But Russian security drags/carries them off the field. Their day may be about to get a lot less comfortable.
The disturbance on the field has been claimed by the opposition activists Pussy Riot.
51’: France Struggling
France’s defense, oddly for a smart team protecting a lead, has been caught outnumbered and backtracking three times already in this half. That’s very dangerous, and they probably should stop doing it.
50’: Corner for Croatia
Cleared out to Vrsaljko, he takes a whack from 30 yards, but it sails well to the left of Lloris’s goal.
49’: Croatia Threatens Again!
More danger: A long lead ball over Varane sends in Mandzukic, but Lloris reads it well and races out to chest the free ball just outside his area.
He hasn’t wandered much in the tournament, but he really needed to there.
48’: Lloris Blocks
There’s something: Rebic busts in, catches a lead ball and rips a shot back across that Lloris will be glad to have pushed over.
46’: Second Half Begins
Back underway here, and it takes 15 seconds for Croatia to foul Pogba.
About that V.A.R. Decision
LOTS of discussion of Nestor Pitana’s use of V.A.R. at halftime, and most agree that it wasn’t the best example of what the technology has brought to the game. It’s not supposed to be a tool to review calls that could have gone the other way; it’s there to correct obvious errors. Not sure that was one.
Individual standouts include Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic of Croatia with five crosses each. The main man on the ball has been Marcelo Brozovic, with 40 passes (no French player has more than 17). Domagoj Vida has five clearances.
A Frenchman does lead in one category, the always fun “possession advanced,” which reveals which players move the ball forward the most. Kylian Mbappé has credit for 63 meters.
Croatia Knows How to Come Back
Croatia had the better of the play, and Perisic’s goal seemed to revive them after the stunned moment that followed Mandzukic’s own goal. But they’ll be fuming about the referee Nestor Pitana, and need to be wary of making the second half one of frustration over regrets. They’ve come back before — several times — including against England. It wouldn’t seem right if they didn’t have to do it again. The question is: can they come back if France starts to settle in and tighten the screws on defense, just throttling the life out of the final.
Halftime: France 2, Croatia 1
There’s the whistle. France will be pleased with that, but they’ve been terribly fortunate with the own goal and the V.A.R. decision, which surely will be chewed on for weeks if it proves decisive today.
Victor Mather: You wouldn’t know it from the scoreboard, but Croatia dominated the half. It led in shots, 7-1, corners, 4-1, and possession, 61-39. It had 245 passes to France’s 123, and its accuracy outshone France’s as well, 85-73 percent.
45’ + 3: Danger for France
Another dangerous cross for Croatia fails to meet a target. Pitana and France would very much like to get inside.
45’ +1: Weather Update
Thunder and lightning visible now. The Croatian soccer gods are not happy.
45’: Three More Minutes
Three minutes of added time, mostly for the V.A.R. decision, the length of which was also a signal it wasn’t a clear and obvious error.
45’: Samuel Umtiti Down
Umtiti went down in the scrum on that last corner and never got back up. The French trainers are out, which means he’ll be out for this next corner, probably the final one of the half. Giroud’s done a lot of the clearances lately.
44’: Corner for Croatia
Croatia wins a corner after some shaky France defending. Rakitic takes, but it’s cleared right back to him for another.
41’: Another Yellow for France
France’s second yellow goes to Lucas Hernandez for a foul in midfield.
39’: Let the Second-Guessing Begin
It will be verrrrrrry interesting how that is perceived today and tomorrow and next week. It seemed more a second look on a judgment call than the reversal of a clear and obvious error. But I guess clear and obvious errors look different to French citizens and Croatian ones right now.
38’ GRIEZMANN SCORES! France Leads, 2-1
Antoine Griezmann calmly rolls it left as Subasic dives to his own left. No one home, and France is back in front.
37’: It’s a Penalty!
Great chance for France! Pitana took a looooong look and saw what we all saw: a handball. And he’s decided that’s a penalty. This will be a massive talking point, given that it felt as if it could have gone either way. But V.A.R. was designed for just these kinds of moments. It goes without saying that’s the first-ever test in a World Cup final. But will it DECIDE a World Cup final?
Big moment: on replay, that looked as if it could be a handball. But it hit him, and he was in a natural position. But we’ll see…..
34’: Corner for France … Handball?
Antoine Griezmann’s corner comes to Matuidi in the area, and his header goes wide of the near post. The French are screaming for a handball on Perisic, and this is a really big test for V.A.R.
32’: Kante Needs to Be Careful
The Kanté yellow is even bigger now that Croatia’s even, by the way. They can run at him, challenge him, and hope Pitana sees something that crosses the line and sends him off. That would be nightmare for France; he’s really their most Indispensable player.
29’: This Game’s Wide Open
The goal really livens things up just as France was hoping to slow them down. And now there’s a spring in the Croatians’ step again.
28’ CROATIA SCORES! We’re even!
Ivan Perisic gets the final shot after a series of headers brings a Modric free kick to him in the area. The shot, off a nice shift left with a deft touch, hit Varane in the hip and deflected just a bit farther out of Lloris’s reach.
27’: Yellow for Kante
Yellow card to Kanté, who clips Perisic’s heel as he breaks up the middle, dangerously. Worth keeping an eye on that; Kanté’s game sometimes involves — thrives — on fouls like that. But now he can’t do it.
22’: Here Comes the Rain
It just started to rain here after the goal, but the life has definitely gone out of the Croatian crowd a bit.
Victor Mather: Statistical oddity alert. France has a goal, but still no official shots. Because Griezmann’s blast was deflected in for an own goal, he does not get credit for a shot.
21’: Croatia Free Kick Handled
Croatia gets a similar opportunity with a free kick at the other end, but its header isn’t nearly as accurate, and Lloris collects for a goal kick.
18’: GOAL! FRANCE LEADS!
A foul gave Griezmann a free kick about 30 yards or so out on the left, and he fires in a ball that Mandukic heads over Subasic into his own net.
It’s always a risk there, but that is a disaster for Croatia, who has done everything right. And just as we noted, they failed to turn it into a goal. And now they’re in a hole, perhaps unfairly, and France can do what France has been doing: just tighten up, and not make any mistakes. Terrible luck for Mandzukic, though, who did his job and unwittingly put it into the side netting.
15’: Croatia Needs to Convert
Croatia really will want to turn all this possession and probing into something soon; if France fights through these first 15 or 20 minutes without paying a price by surrendering a goal, it most likely will find their feet. And Croatia may come to regret that.
Victor Mather: Anything missing from this game? How about a shot? There have been zero so far. Not zero shots on net … zero shots of any kind with 15 minutes played.
14’: Putin in the House
Vladimir Putin is here today for the final. It’s only the second time he has turned up for a game at this World Cup. The first was the opener.
12’: France On Its Heels
A dozen minutes in and Mbappé’s only touch has been on defense. Griezmann may not have touched it at all yet.
10’: Croatia Controlling This Game So Far
Modric, using the outside of his right foot, opens up the French with a lovely cross-field ball to the overlapping Strinic, but Umtiti clears out his cross. Nice moment though, one of many for Croatia in the first 10 minutes in which they’ve had almost all of the ball.
Victor Mather: France’s defense has been forced to clear the ball seven times already. Croatia has just one clearance.
8’: Corner for Croatia
Strinic and Rakitic work a nice give-and-go there in the left corner, and Pogba has to come over to cut off the former when he gets the ball back in the area. Corner to Croatia.
Grioud wins it in front of Lloris, and the French try to break out.
6’: Croatia Leads in Attendance and Volume
The atmosphere in here today is much improved from some of the drab ones we had in the semifinals. That’s largely due to the Croatians, who have taken over several sections behind their goal and are, at times, simply pulsating as they jump up and down. The much smaller French contingent down the other end hasn’t had much to cheer yet.
5’: Croatia Keeps Attacking
Vrsaljko slips free for a moment deep down the right wing and fires in a cross, but again France is there to clear. Solving Varane and Umtiti will take better balls than that one, but getting it off at all is a positive for Croatia early.
Victor Mather: Say this about Croatia: The team is not afraid to shoot. Coming into this game it has 100 shots, third in the Cup behind Belgium (which has played one more game) and Brazil. But the accuracy has not been sensational: Only 26 of those shots were on target, far behind Belgium and Brazil.
3’: Varane Shuts It Down
Perisic probing down the left is the first real test for France, but Varane, so smooth, slides over and shuts it all down.
That ball out of bounds nearing the first-minute mark was the first French touch of the day. That’ll be fine with Croatia.
Kylian Mbappé was absolutely beaming during the French anthem. On a day when it would be understandable to be as tense as a 19-year-old could be, the joy on his face was wonderful. I wonder if it hints at a big day ahead for him. “I want to win the World Cup,” he had said this week. “I want to sleep with it.”
World Cup Final: The Man in Charge
Today’s referee is the Argentine Nestor Pitana, a veteran official with slicked back hair and the look of an Argentine army colonel. He generally brooks no fools but most assuredly wants to stay out of the action today.
The video-assistant referee is an Italian, Massimiliano Irrati. The teams are coming out of the tunnel. Almost time. Anthems next ….