Moscow, July 15: France scored twice in each half as they thumped combative maiden finalists Croatia 4-2 in a dramatic final at the Luzhniki Stadium to win the FIFA World Cup for the second time in 20 years here on Sunday. A first-ever own goal in a World Cup final gave France the lead as Mario Mandzukic headed a free-kick into his own net in the 18th minute but Croatia pulled level through a strike from Ivan Perisic in the 28th minute.
Antoine Griezmann converted a penalty in the 38th minute to regain France’s lead which was further increased to 3-1 by Paul Pogba in the 59th minute.
Kylian Mbappe (65th) made it 4-1 before Mandzukic pounced on a blunder from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to reduce the difference to two in the 69th minute, giving some hope to Croatia. But the third goal from Croatia never arrived as the talented French side, coached by Didier Deschamps sealed a deserving triumph.
France thus pulled level with South American powerhouses Argentina (1978, 1986) and Uruguay (1930, 1950) as the third nation with two World Cup titles.
With this win, Deschamps, who captained the title winning 1998 French side, achieved the rare distinction of becoming only the third man, in history — after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and German legend Franz Beckenbauer — to win the World Cup both as a player and a head coach.
Known for his pragmatic approach, Deschamps ensured that France, overwhelming favourites coming in to the final, did not waste the glory moment like they did it two years ago against Portugal in the summit clash of the European Championship.
Even though the 4-2 scoreline clearly paints the picture clear in favour of the French, the on-field action was a different story. France hurt Croatia when they were enjoying dominant phases. It says a lot about Deschamps’ vision.
For the Croatians, it was a tearful end to a brave, gruelling campaign which saw them being stretched to the limit in each of their previous knockout matches.
Against Denmark and Russia, they prevailed via penalty shootouts, while in the semi-final against England, they started poorly conceding the first goal within five minutes before winning in extra-time.
Exactly 20 years after the golden generation comprising legends like Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban finished third at their first ever World Cup, Croatia displayed similar never-say-die attitude and fighting spirit to take the football world by storm for a second time. A remarkable achievement for a tiny war-torn nation of just over four million people who emerged from the bloody disintegration of erstwhile Yugoslavia only in 1991. (IANS)