Moscow, July 15 (IANS) 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.
Once again defying the critics, Croatia — the lowest-ranked team to ever reach the final — were sharper of the two sides at the beginning, with Perisic dominating the left flank. The East Europeans also made a couple of threatening incursions on the other flank as France looked to absorb the early pressure.
France, however, drew first blood against the run of play when Griezmann earned a free-kick after being fouled by midfielder Marcelo Brozovic 30 yards out. Griezmann whipped the ball into the penalty area, where Mandzukic rose highest to get the touch that sent the ball past Danijel Subasic and inside the far corner in the 18th minute.
France could have doubled their advantage five minutes later when Blaise Matuidi put through Killian Mbappe on goal but Domagoj Vida made a brilliant tackle to deny the teenager.
France could hold on to their lead for only 10 minutes as Croatia hit back through Perisic. A free-kick from the left saw Luka Modric float the ball to the far post, where Sime Vrsalko headed it across the penalty area. Mandzukic headed it to left for Vida who then teed it for Perisic on the edge of the box. The Inter Milan winger unleashed a left-footed low drive into the bottom right-hand corner.
France regained the lead 10 minutes later when the referee Nestor Pitana used the Video Assiantant Referee (VAR) to determine that Perisic had handled the ball while marking Matuidi at the near post defending a corner from the right from Griezmann in the his 36th minute corner. Griezmann then rolled the resulting penalty past Subasic into the bottom left corner.
Croatia tried to respond to this goal by earning two corners late in the first half but they yielded nothing as France head into the break with a 2-1 lead.
Croatia started the second half very strongly, with Ante Rebic’s diagonal effort from about 15 yards was tipped over the bar by Lloris, who couple of minutes later had to rush ahead to smother a counter-attack.
France showed threatened on the counter-attack, but Subasic came off the line to block a drive from Mbappe on the left in the 52nd minute.
Seeing continuous Croatian attacks, France substituted defensive midfielder N’golo Kante with Steven Nzonzi. France doubled their advantage in the 59th minute when N’Zonzi passed the ball to Pogba, who then ran towards the Croatian box. After a one-two with Mbappe, Pogba’s first shot from just outside the box was blocked but at the ball fell at his feet, he then employed a left-footed drive to the bottom right corner.
Despite the two-goal cushion, France didn’t relent and Mbappe became the first teenager after Pele in 1958 to score in a final as his right-footed drive from the left-hand of the box beat Subasic at the right bottom corner in the 65th minute.
Trailing 1-4, Croatia seemed down and out until a blunder from keeper Lloris gave them their second goal in the 69th minute. A long back pass from Giroud was met by Lloris but his pass to a teammate was intercepted by a high-pressing Mandzukic.
Croatia pushed for their third goal but it never came. Ivan Rakitic attempted a left-footed flick which missed the right post by a whisker. He followed it up with a long-range drive but Lloris saw it fly over the bar.
Croatia threw in Andrej Kramaric and Marko Pjaca but the French defence stood tall to keep the scoreline 4-2 at the end of 90 minutes.