France’s first goal came off a Croatian’s head. The second was scored with the aid of the Argentine referee, and became the first video-assistant-reviewed goal in World Cup final history.

But the next two — hard low shots by young French stars Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé — confirmed what everyone knew even before France polished off its 4-2 victory on Sunday: France was the best team in the field this summer in Russia, and for that reason its team — a potent mix of greatness, grit and good fortune — is the world champion again.

The title is France’s second and the first since it won on home soil in 1998, and it ended a thrilling run by Croatia. The Croats survived three consecutive extra-time games and two penalty shootouts to reach their first final, and they even had the better of the game on Sunday.

But France fought Croatia off when it had to and punished it when it could. And when the final whistle blew, its players raced off the bench in glee, gathered in jumping hugs and shared embraces with their coach, Didier Deschamps, a midfielder on the 1998 team who became the third man to win the World Cup as a player and head coach.

France was not so much great as fundamentally good: a team of outstanding talents willing to surrender possession and strike on the counter; a team capable of scoring superb goals but also willing to accept whatever it was given.

Amazing resilience

Even on Sunday, it surrendered possession willingly to Croatia’s talented midfield of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic in the first half — and still came out ahead. Presented with chances in the second half thanks to Mbappé’s unmatched speed and skill, it turned one break into Pogba’s goal and a second into Mbappé’s. Not even bad luck of its own, like a blunder that handed Croatia its second goal, came with any real price. France merely regrouped and saw the game out, and then waited, snapping selfies and waving flags, to pick up its golden reward.

The French struck first, or rather Croatia did — with striker Mario Mandzukic heading a free kick over his goalkeeper in the 18th minute. Stunned, Croatia tied the match 10 minutes later through Ivan Perisic, but soon was behind again in a moment both historic and controversial. The incident came in the 35th minute, when a ball served into the box tipped off a French player and onto the hand of Perisic, who did not seem to see it arriving. The Argentine referee, Nelson Pitana, initially signalled a corner kick. But as France’s players appealed for a penalty kick, Pitana got word from the video-assistant referee that he might want to have a look at the replay. Pitana scrolled through the play again before signalling a penalty kick for handball.NYT

Source: Read Full Article