Hearts won by Croatia | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 17, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, July 17, 2018

Hearts won by Croatia

From Russia, with no surprise!

Being the most formidable among 32 teams, France won the World Cup for the second time. First-time finalists Croatia had a good shot at the ultimate glory in football. But the World Cup, at least for now, is meant to be shared by the elite club of eight countries who won it previously.

The final had the full package: controversial decisions, pitch invasions, a first own goal, first teenage goal-scorer after Pele, comedy of goalkeeping errors and even the first trophy-awarding ceremony in the rain.

Sunday belonged to France. And what a win it was for a team with ultra-defensive capability. A 4-2 triumph in the final is a goal-fest that the world last witnessed 52 years ago when England beat the then West Germany at Wembley in London. A hattrick from great Geoff Hurst and a controversial penalty helped England win the trophy (known as Jules Rime Trophy then) for the first time by a 4-2 margin.

No other teams were as talented and skilful as France in Russia. No other teams were as formidable as France in every position. They were solid everywhere in the line-up, with equally qualified alternatives on the bench. They were all young, hugely talented and highly adventurous.

So, it's only natural for the coach of the fearsome team to become the toast of France. Didier Deschamps has the right to bask in glory as he is only the third man after Mario Zagalo of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany to win the famous cup both as captain and coach.

The former France defender may not be popular with his school of football that advocates for 'win, not how you win' is what matters. France might not have played beautiful football but they indeed have won the cup. The two spectacular goals by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe in the second half should serve as a strong rejoinder to the critics of France's defensive and dour style of play.

Both goals originated through rare build-ups before attack and ended in shooting precision, with Pogba's left-footer finding the top corner of the net and 19-year-old Mbappe's scorching grounder from 25 yards catching the Croatian goalkeeper laden-footed. The prince of this World Cup, Mbappe is certainly a great in the making.

Croats were attractive and attacking right from the word go, showing no sign of fatigue after playing three extra-time matches and getting less rest in between. They ruled the first half but France ended up lucky.

In the 18th minute, the referee let Croatia down. Antoine Griezmann took a cheeky dive to win a free-kick 30 yards from the Croatian goal. Griezmann took it and Mario Mandzukic headed it into his own net. Croatia came back into the match in 10 minutes with a superb strike from Ivan Perisic.

Only 10 minutes later, France again got the lead through a controversial penalty converted by Griezmann. Perisic leapt up to head the ball but it took a deflection and hit his hand, which should have been let off as unintentional ball-handling inside the forbidden zone. But, Argentine referee consulted the VAR (video assistant referee) and judged it intentional.

Two poor decisions in less than 20 minutes proved too much to overcome for Croatia. Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic was justifiably fuming.

“We played well but the penalty knocked the wind out of us and after that it was very difficult," Dalic said after congratulating France on their victory. "I just want to say one sentence about that penalty: you don't give a penalty like that in a World Cup final.”

Luck indeed played a small but significant part in that match!

Captain Luka Modrich was once again in the thick of Croatian things to launch attack after attack on the French fort. The No. 10 was deservedly chosen as the best player of the tournament. His Golden Ball will remind him of how agonisingly close he was to lifting the Cup.

The Telstar comes to a halt with the final result: the best team, not the best player, won the World Cup.

The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star

Leave your comments