If there has been one theme this World Cup, it has been that of chaos. There have been unexpected and exciting results that led Croatia to take on France in the final. World Cup finals tend to be cagey, cautious matches with the top two teams in the tournament seeking to minimize mistakes and take their chances without taking risks. However, this match would live up to the excitement of the entire tournament as Croatia and France treated fans to a messy, fun, goal party to end the 2018 World Cup.
For the opening minutes, Croatia took control of the game with France content to sit back and absorb pressure. The Vatreni were unable to turn their possession into chances while France calmly tracked runners and closed down dangerous passes as they bided their time, waiting to strike.
Despite Croatia seeming more likely to find the net first, France would open the scoring on a free kick by Antoine Griezmann in the 19th minute. Croatia elected to just send one player forward to form a wall and Griezmann’s kick was driven into a crowd of bodies and heads. Eventually it brushed the top of Mario Mandzukic head and went into the net for an own goal.
#MundialTelemundo @MarioMandzukic9 intenta rechazar el balín, pero la mete en su propia portería y así lo narró @AndresCantorGOL #FRA 1-0 #CRO pic.twitter.com/uIEQBnxwhH— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
Once France scored, Les Bleus began to protect their lead by pressing Croatia to try to prevent the steady build up that they allowed prior to scoring. However, the aggressive approach would give Croatia a chance when Ngolo Kante was shown a yellow card for a challenge in the center of the pitch about 40 yards from the French goal. The ensuing free kick would be played centrally to Domagoj Vida who laid it off to Ivan Perisic. Despite Kante stepping to the midfielder, his shot would slice through the box, nearly being blocked by Benjamin Pavard and Raphael Varane, and find the back of the net to even the score at one.
#MundialTelemundo Perisic apareció y con un golazo empata el marcador #FRA 1-1 #CRO pic.twitter.com/PYUihBiDXJ— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
VAR would play a role in the next goal as Nestor Pitana would go to the video review screen and award a penalty to France after Perisic was ruled to handle a ball played into the Croatia box off of a corner.
El VAR aparece por primera vez en la final del #MundialTelemundo pic.twitter.com/dvpEiefHvN— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
Antione Griezmann stepped up and sent his left footed PK into the left corner of the net as Danijel Subasic dove the wrong way to put France ahead 2-1 in the 39th minute.
#MundialTelemundo @AntoGriezmann vuelve a pone en ventaja a @EquipedeFrance #FRA 2-1 #CRO pic.twitter.com/jifEZMqtHv— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
That is where things would stand as the teams went into the locker rooms. Croatia would be losing due to entirely preventable mistakes. An own goal from a free kick given up in a dangerous area and a penalty conceded off of a handball would cost the Kockasti. For their part, France went about the game the way they have the entire tournament with a cautious approach that ended up paying off for the first 45 minutes.
As the second half began, France took possession and drove at the Croatia goal only to have an early shot blocked. Croatia responded with a chance of their own, but it seemed like France would search for a third goal to put the game away while Croatia would counter the French pressing by playing more direct. The Vatra would begin turning their possession into chances forcing Hugo Lloris into making several saves for the first 10 minutes of the half.
After a brief pause due to a fan rushing the field, Didier Deschamps would go to his bench and take off who had been his best player for the entire tournament as Kante made way for Steven Nzonzi in the 55th minute. The move seemed to be inline with Deschamps’ overall cautious approach to the tournament as keeping 11 players on the field was probably more important for the match with Kante on a yellow card.
With Katne off, it would be another French central midfielder that would make his mark in the match. In the 59th minute, Kylian Mbappe cut into the Croatia defensive area, dished a pass off to Griezmann who passed to Paul Pogba at the top of the 18 yard box. Pogba’s first shot would be blocked but he snagged his rebound and drove a shot into the net to put France up 3-1.
#MundialTelemundo ¿Gol de campeonato? @paulpogba aumenta la ventaja y #FRA pone una mano sobre la Copa del Mundo. pic.twitter.com/JSV2gEsNmB— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
Minutes later, with Croatia pushing to find a way back into the game, a player who announced his presence on the world stage in the tournament made his mark in the final when Mbappe became the second teenager to score a goal in a World Cup final along with Pele.
#MundialTelemundo @KMbappe no se quería ir sin su anotación y marca su cuarto gol de Rusia 2018. pic.twitter.com/NA1jgU5gip— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
Needing to overcome a 4-1 deficit, Tottenham Hotspur keeper Hugo Lloris would add a howler to what was an incredibly exciting final match. The netminder tried to play the ball out of his box but would misjudge his abilities and a closing Mandzukic tapped the ball into the net.
#MundialTelemundo ¿El oso de la Copa del Mundo? ¡Grosero error de Lloris y #CRO se acerca en el marcador! #FRA 4-2 #CRO pic.twitter.com/0Ppu5LfM1T— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) July 15, 2018
For the remaining 20 minutes, France tried to limit Croatia’s chances while il furioso incendio pushed for the two goals they would need to even the score. Despite a terrific tournament when they never gave up and seemed to always be able to tap into a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, the goals wouldn’t come and France would prevail to win their second World Cup.
For all of the analyzing and predicting that pundits and commentators do to preview matches, soccer is a sport that is deeply subject to the forces of randomness and France vs. Croatia had a surfeit of it. An own goal, a penalty, a keeper howler; nobody could have predicted those plays and the result comes despite the statistics saying the losing team may have been the better side. Croatia seemed like the dominant team for long stretches of the game with more chances and the majority of possession throughout the match, but their mistakes and France’s tactical discipline would end up being the determining factors in the result.