France - Croatia 4-2
Six goals! A great World Cup crowned by a great final! Certainly the best World Cup final in my time, and if we are to judge by the number of goals, the best since 1958 (yes, England's 4-2 win in 1966 had six goals as well, but after extra time). It is absolutely incredible how open the game was, how well both teams played and how they went for it with all their might, not trying to stall the game or cheat football in any way.
An argument can be made for Croatia being a tad unlucky, what with the first two French goals coming on the back of refereeing decision, but that argument has shaky grounds. First off, Mandzukic's own goal, from a questionable foul on Griezmann. I've watched it many times from 3 angles and honestly can't make up my mind. It looks like he goes down really easy, but it's really hard to tell whether the fall was caused by Brozovic or not. Regardless, that was not the goal. The goal came from the ensuing free kick, which was poorly defended by the Croats, and it's really unfortunate that Mandzukic only pushed it into his own net. He's a great player and has enough experience to put this behind him quickly, but an own goal in a World Cup final will always be a stick to beat him with, so plenty of people will keep reminding him about it.
And, as fortunes would have it, it was going to be the other goalscorer to cause the penalty that put France ahead shortly before the break. Was it a handball against Perisic? Well, he certainly touched the ball with his hand, leaving the rest of the world to debate concepts like 'intent', 'natural position' and - to Heidegger's delight - the 'being towards the ball' or 'the ball being towards the hand'. The reality of it is, whenever there's contact between your hand and the ball in the box you're always risking a penalty, so you're better of keeping your hand to yourself. The example I always go back to is Baggio's penalty against Chile in 1998 (0:55 in the clip). All the other blabber works for sofa punditry but is useless on the pitch: a penalty was awarded and Griezmann put France ahead. Anyone who'd try to make this decision an argument against VAR are victims of a logical flaw: first off, the referee can watch a replay however many times he deems necessary and he's also the only man in charge of his own absolute certainties and reasonable doubts. Secondly, even if this decision was blatantly wrong, the purpose of VAR is not to make refereeing perfect - there is no such thing; it's purpose is to reduce the refereeing errors, and there's no denying throughout this World Cup it's done just that, and an important bit more: it has made the set piece battles in the box a lot cleaner. It came at the cost of a record 29 penalties, but it's an improvement on the game and it's here to stay.
It's one of football's little ironies that the two scorers for Croatia were the protagonists of the first two French goals. They're both brilliant players and have been excellent for their team, potentially not deserving to be involved in the two incidents, but no one can escape the caprices of fate.
Ivan Perisic - in my opinion the player of the tournament. He is the full package and his equalizer in the 28th minute is a confirmation of just how good he has been. Excellent placement, strength, superb shot, a summary of all the skills he displayed throughout the tournament. Renewed interest from Manchester United? I'd love this interest to materialize, though Inter might be rather reluctant to let him go.
As for the second Croatian goal, Hugo Lloris should count his blessings that it came at 4-1, because should that have been a decider, the French goalkeeper would have been on the receiving end of an unflattering stream of jokes and memes for some time. As it is, people forgot about it already, choosing instead to concentrate on exactly how black the French team is. Not only enraging, but mind-boggling how people can get so stuck in someone's skin color or birth place and not see what is in front of them: another human being.
Mbappe was born in France, calls no other country his own and knows no other culture, though he sure knows how to kick a football. He's been an absolute delight to watch this tournament, as was his goal for 4-1. I look forward to seeing a lot more moments of magic from the 19 year old in the years to come, though I do regret most of them will be in the PSG shirt, as I'm not sure who and for how much could get him away from Parc des Princes where he arrived with the immense 180M price tag.
And happily enough, Pogba put his name on the score sheet too, with just as good a shot as Mbappe's, prompting the choir of eternally complaining United fans to ask for him to put in the same kind of performances for United. As if his single-handed demolition of City never was.
4-2, a score maybe too harsh on Croatia, that deserve all praise heaped upon them and more. But France was the best team of the tournament and are deserving winners. It is a rare feat when two teams this good are pitted against each other and play this sort of superb, fluid, open football. And this final was a rare feat indeed, though I'd make a trilogy out of it, with France's games against Argentina and Uruguay next to it, and then we'll have the full perspective of what this wonderful team assembled by Deschamps is capable of.
Which does beg the question: Giroud? There's no reason to end this review on any sort of a negative note, and there's no arguments against the strategy of a manager who's just won the World Cup, but come on, Didi, what's the catch? Did you put him on just to make all the others look good?
|But guess who's the center of celebrations?|