France victorious as golden World Cup ends

Singin’ in the rain: European countries have now won 12 World Cups to South America’s nine. © Getty

Was this the best World Cup ever? France are the champions after beating Croatia. With great goals, controversy and superb individual displays, the final symbolised a memorable tournament.

It was quite some weekend for France. Just 24 hours after celebrating Bastille Day, Les Bleus stormed the World Cup as they beat Croatia 4-2 to win their third ever major tournament.

Four weeks of shocks, stunning goals, breakout stars and nail-biting finishes had seen many dub Russia 2018 the best World Cup of all time. But a great tournament needs a great final. And though the favourites eventually prevailed, this was far from a walkover.

Croatia, competing in the biggest match in their history, started the better side. But a stroke of misfortune 18 minutes in saw them go 1-0 down, as Mario Mandzukić headed the ball into his own net. Ten minutes later, Croatia had equalised thanks to a thunderous Ivan Perišić strike.

Then came the big moment of controversy. France whipped in a corner, and the ball glanced against Perišić’s hand. French players surrounded the referee. Eventually, he consulted the video referee (VAR). A penalty was given.

Was it a handball? Arguably. Was it a “clear and obvious error” not to give the decision? Probably not. Antoine Griezmann did not care as he stroked the ball home.

But France moved up a gear after the break. Paul Pogba made it 3-1 before 19-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappé flashed in the fourth. Mandzukić’s subsequent goal was a mere consolation.

Croatian midfielder Luka Modrić won the Golden Ball, while the tournament will surely be remembered for Mbappé, who announced himself as a true great of the game. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both exited the tournament at the last 16 stage. Their era of dominance may be over.

The build-up to the tournament was dominated by fears over hooliganism. But Russia, according to most people who travelled, was an exemplary host.

Many also expected defensive football. In fact, both finalists were defined by their adventurous approach to the game.

From Germany’s shock exit to South Korea, to England’s thrilling run to the semis, to France’s eventual victory, this World Cup will be remembered for a long time.

But was it the best ever?

Magnifique!

Absolutely, say some. This World Cup struck the perfect balance: there were surprises, but the best team won in the end. Thrilling attacking was matched by tough defending. Every stage was exciting. England made a nation dream. Russia were brilliant hosts. It was boiling hot. How many more reasons do you need?

Rubbish, reply others. The tournament was a propaganda victory for a sinister dictatorship. The draw ended up hopelessly lopsided, with all the best teams clumped together in one half. VAR set a dangerous precedent for football in the future. And in any case, you cannot judge a World Cup until at least a decade after it has ended.

You Decide

  1. Was this the best World Cup you can remember?
  2. Is international football better than club football?

Activities

  1. Write down your three most vivid memories from this World Cup. They do not have to be specific to any one single game.
  2. Write an 800-word match report of France’s 4-2 win over Croatia.

Some People Say...

“Out of all the unimportant things, football is the most important.”

Pope John Paul II

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
France have won their second ever World Cup after beating Croatia 4-2 in the final in Moscow. Their manager, Didier Deschamps, has become only the third person ever to win the World Cup as both a player and manager following Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany. Yesterday’s final contained as many goals as the finals of 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 combined.
What do we not know?
How this World Cup will be judged in the future. For many who remember it, the 1970 World Cup in Mexico remains unbeatable. This is largely because it was won by Brazil, whose team of that era is still seen as the best international side ever. This French side is young — and so even though they have won one World Cup, their future reputation remains uncertain.

Word Watch

Bastille Day
Every year on July 14, France celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, a turning point of the French revolution.
Third ever major tournament
France won the 1998 World Cup on home soil, which they followed up by winning the European Championships two years later.
Biggest match in their history
Previously, Croatia’s best World Cup finish had been a semi-final in 1998, where they lost to France. With a population of just 4.1 million, they are the second smallest nation ever to reach the final after Uruguay.
VAR
Video assistant referee.
Penalty
A record 29 penalties were awarded at this World Cup, with 22 scored and seven missed. They resulted in 17% of all goals scored. This compares to just 13 in 2014.
Golden Ball
The award for the tournament’s best player. Second in the voting was Belgium’s Eden Hazard, followed by France’s Antoine Griezmann.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
Ronaldo’s Portugal went out to Uruguay just hours after Messi’s Argentina had lost 4-3 to France in one of the tournament’s most exciting matches.