France’s array of superstars came out to shine as Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe fired them to World Cup glory with an emphatic 4-2 win over Croatia
Following a tournament packed with thrills and drama, the final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium lived up to what preceded it from the moment Les Bleus hit the front through an 18th-minute own goal by Mario Mandzukic – a cruel role reversal for Croatia’s extra-time hero in the semi-final win over England.
Zlatko Dalic’s side had started the stronger and levelled through a fine Ivan Perisic strike before the Inter player was harshly adjudged to have handled in the box, as VAR made its first impact upon a World Cup final.
Griezmann converted his fourth of the tournament from 12 yards before Croatia pursued their opponents furiously once more at the start of the second half.
A pitch invasion from punk protest group Pussy Riot in the 52nd minute seemed a fitting precursor to the anarchy that followed, with Pogba and Mbappe arrowing in majestic strikes from outside the box.
An absent-minded error from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris allowed Mandzukic to put his name on the other side of the scoreboard, but Didier Deschamps was not to be denied his piece of history as the third man to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach. Deschamps was captain of team that lifted the trophy back in 1998.
Croatia quickly established an easy control of possession and probed down either flank during the opening exchanges, only to fall behind after France’s first attacking spell of note.
Griezmann tumbled when Marcelo Brozovic clipped his heels and the Atletico Madrid star’s floated free-kick was glanced unwittingly into his own net by Mandzukic.
It meant the question was whether France’s capacity to lock down an advantage or Croatia’s reputation as the comeback kings of the knockout stages would hold sway.
In the 28th minute, Perisic emphatically provided the answer. The winger was cynically tripped by N’Golo Kante, who was booked for his indiscretion. France failed to adequately deal with Luka Modric’s deep free-kick and Perisic seized on a knockdown from Domagoj Vida with a clever right-footed touch and rasping left-footed finish.
But Croatia’s goalscorer had his joy curtailed shortly afterwards when a lengthy VAR review saw him penalised for handball from Griezmann’s right-wing corner. Replays left no doubt the ball struck Perisic’s left hand, but, given he was pulling his arm down and was left largely unsighted by Raphael Varane, he had every right to feel aggrieved.
Griezmann kept his cool impressively to nonchalantly stroke the spot-kick home and France survived a sustained spell of set-piece pressure to keep their lead intact at the break.
Croatia began the second half as they did the first and Lloris clawed Ante Rebic’s strike over on the end of Ivan Rakitic’s superb pass. Waves of attacks followed from Dalic’s men before France were granted respite via Mbappe’s lightning pace.
The Paris Saint-Germain star escaped Vida’s clutches and forced Danijel Subasic to save with his feet.
Another of France’s tournament stand-outs, Kante, then made way for Steven N’Zonzi, but it was their most celebrated midfield operator who rose majestically to the occasion before the hour.
Mbappe raided down the right and Griezmann fed Pogba on the edge of the box after failing to fully bring the ball under his spell. The Manchester United star’s thunderous right-footed attempt was blocked, but he steered the rebound home immaculately with his left.
France scented blood against opponents weary from three consecutive periods of extra-time and Mbappe joined Griezmann on four for the tournament, unleashing a low 65th-minute drive from 25 yards as Vida stood off to become the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele.
Lloris encouraged Croatia to dip into their seemingly bottomless reserves by allowing Mandzukic to tackle him and bundle home in the 69th minute. Rakitic went close as his brave team-mates ensured they would not be disgraced in the face of France’s second world title.