It's ironic that a Fifa World Cup that bamboozled just about everyone at different stages had an air of predictability about who would be the 2018 champions in Russia.

France carried on their Bastille Day celebrations on foreign soil with a storming 4-2 victory in the final over outsiders Croatia at Moscow's packed Luzhniki Stadium today.

It was thoroughly deserved in what can best be described as an 18-carat gold tournament, as far as entertainment is concerned.

The Didier Deschamps-coached men clearly displayed that there were Les Bleus and then the rest in the 32-nation competition.


Undoubtedly it was a thrilling finish but also symbolic of the many twists in the plot that encapsulated a tourney of heroes and villains.

There were six goals - including an own goal, a penalty kick and a goalkeeping howler - but even if the creases are ironed out, France would have prevailed 2-1 through their sheer brilliance.

Semifinal hero Mario Mandzukic came across like a defiant rogue when he conceded an own goal after his ill discipline - fouling French forager Antoine Griezmann. From the ensuing free kick, he nodded the ball backwards past Croat goalkeeper Danijel Subasic in the 18th minute.

The expression on Mandzukic's face was perhaps directed at the lethargic-looking Subasic, who had risen tentatively to reach for the ball, but one has to question the reason for having a striker in defence.

It seemed the footballing gods had already begun to weep for the Croats as it started to drizzle.

Again, a French player, N'Golo Kanté, tasked with Paul Pogba with keeping the Croatian midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic in check, looked out of sorts.

Kanté's foul on Ivan Perisic saw the latter profit from the ensuing free kick with a humdinger of an equaliser for 1-1 in the 28th minute.

But then it was Perisic's turn to assume the mantle of villain when referee Nestor Pitana rightly judged the scorer to have deliberately smacked the ball away from its intended path following a Griezmann corner in the 34th minute.


Four minutes later, after help from the video assistant referee (VAR), Pitana pointed to the penalty spot and Griezmann had Subasic diving the wrong way for a 2-1 lead.

French teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé latched on to a speculator and all the signs of a sizzling goal was in store but Croatia centre back Domagoj Vida unsettled him with two body lunging grabs as the officials remained oblivious in the 53rd minute.

A tourney that had no obvious glitches with fans suddenly had two park invaders halting play. It turned out to be a Pussy Riot pitch invasion but there was no mistaking the beefed up security as more yellow-vested security officers circled the fan surrounds.

Like any astute mentor, Deschamps took the opportunity soon after to replace Kanté with Steven Nzonzi in the 54th minute. He also went on to yank out under-achieving striker Olivier Giroud for Nabil Fekir in the 81st minute.

The crowd went berserk in the 59th minute when Pogba had a Croat defender thwart his right-footed attempt but latched on to the ricocheted ball to curl it past Subasic with his left to extend the lead to 3-1.

But that goal was more about the sixth sense than the underused Manchester United central midfielder's killer instincts.


Mbappé had surged into the right side of the penalty box, taking the ball deceptively to the goal line before cutting it back through the maze of red-and-white chequered shirts to find Griezmann.

Griezmann, comfortably the player of the final, unselfishly laid it back to an advancing Pogba to draw more blood, although it was disappointing to see player of the tourney Modric turn his back to the shot when he could have disrupted its path.

Les Bleus again showed why they were the epitome of collectiveness, as opposed to individual egos, when they destroyed Croatian souls in the 65th minute.

Sure, Mbappé's worm burner from about 22m out was a sight to behold as Subasic froze in the goalmouth but, again, it was all the work leading up to the 4-1 lead that was mind blowing. Just about every blue shirt in the engine room had touched the ball before Lucas Hernandez broke away down the left to square the ball to Mbappé for some magic, although Vida was guilty of ball watching.

TV commentators were quick to elevate Mbappé, juxtaposing him with Brazilian phenomenon Pele - the first teen to score since Pele in 1958 - but it was OTT.

There was one more turning point in the final.


Perhaps through boredom, France captain-goalkeeper Hugo Lloris gifted a goal to the Croats in the 69th minute.

Centreback Samuel Umtiti had pushed a pass back to Lloris but Mandzukic had seen it coming and had confronted the goalkeeper who was casually turning the ball back into play.

A rush of blood to the head saw Lloris make the grave mistake of trying to take the ball around a striker and he conceded a goal as a result.

Just about every conceivable statistics went against France. They had seven shots at goal compared with Croatia's 14; only 34 per cent possession, fewer passes (285/529), 68 per cent accuracy in passing to Croatia's 83; two cornerkicks to the losing finalists' six.

The champions did have two more shots on target to the Croats (6-4).

But the Frenchman still prevailed because that's where class eclipses homework and tutelage.

France players farewell Croatia as captain and player of the world cup Luka Modric (front) leads his troops off the park at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Photo/AP
France players farewell Croatia as captain and player of the world cup Luka Modric (front) leads his troops off the park at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Photo/AP

In no way were Croatia disgraced. They had far exceeded their expectations and gave themselves the chance to do the unthinkable.

Every strain of politics will be dragged in to distort the picture because sports is politics but for a month nations from varied backgrounds gathered in a much-maligned former "Cold War" territory to simply play footy.

The tourney had everything. Fans will whinge about refs, VARs and nations poaching players but, to steal Mick Jagger's lyrics from the Rolling Stones era, you can't always get you want.

Well before the confetti had hit the ground yesterday, the media focus had switched to wheeling and dealing in the lucrative player market.

For a genetically engineered world cup, it was excellent in its ugliness for not upholding the values of a "beautiful game".

The sport should champion rules that promote creativity and flair, not gamesmanship.


Convention should allow for free-flowing games that produce goals, not stop-start set-piece passages of orchestrated play. Russia, take a bow and thanks for the memories. Good luck Qatar in 2022.