The French national soccer team was crowned world champions after defeating an underdog Croatian team 4-2 in the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, July 15th, capturing its second World Cup title and its first since it hosted the 1998 tournament 20 years ago. For the second time, France is champion of the world, and for the first time, this team has its own place in history.
In a match that featured anything you could have ever imagined, a self goal, a goalkeeper gaffe, pitch invaders and a teenager wunderkind finding the back of the net, France rolled to a convincing 4-1 lead and managed to hold on to earn its second star.
Les Bleus manager Didier Deschamps was the captain in 1998 when his team shocked Brazil in Paris, and he became the third to ever win the World Cup as a player and coach. Deschamps is just the third person to win the World Cup as a player and as a coach. Kylian Mbappé is only the second teenager to score in the final, after Pelé. They have etched their names among the greats.
The most watched sports game ended in the victory that France deserved. Not, necessarily, for what it did here in Moscow. As both Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric observed, Croatia could rightly regard itself as the better team. No, France’s victory was warranted for what it had done over the last month. Or, more precisely, for what it had not done.
As the New York Times reported, Deschamps’s team has been exceptional in Russia in more ways than one. Everyone else here seemed determined to make this World Cup as nerve-shredding and logic-defying as possible. Germany fell first to Mexico and then to South Korea. Argentina and Portugal, and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, limped on a little longer, and then melted away, too. Spain and Brazil slipped to Russia and to Belgium. This was a World Cup that first defied expectation and then prediction, a glorious mayhem, a month that captivated the planet with its volatility and its caprice.
Croatia, regarded by most as underdogs, had the ball, had the initiative. Twice in the first half, France took the lead, but it was not entirely clear how: It had not created a single chance. Instead, it benefited from a self goal — Griezmann’s free kick skimming Mario Mandzukic’s head — and, after Ivan Perisic’s equalizer, a penalty, awarded by Néstor Pitana, the Argentine referee, for a hand ball by Perisic after several consultations both with the video referee and a video screen.
Croatia did all it could to be the exception. It scrapped and it clawed to stay in contention; it played with the intensity of a team that knew this chance would not come again.
No team has contributed more to this World Cup than Modric — deservedly awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player — and his teammates; after three games that extended to extra time, they arrived in the final having played 90 minutes, an entire match’s worth, more than the French, so arduous has been their path. Croatia’s Luka Modric was named the tournament’s best player.
There was more to come, as it turned out. In those six minutes, Pogba and Mbappé scored; in those six minutes, France hit a rhythm Croatia could not bear; in those six minutes, France took the game, and the crown, beyond its opponents. Those six minutes spoke volumes for the measure of French superiority over the past six weeks: a team so potent that it does not need to play well for sustained periods, so rich in talent that it only has to shine briefly to shine impossibly brightly, so good that it can do in flashes, in seconds, what others might need an hour and half to do. It is a team of blinding light.
France is the world champion because it can shine brighter than anyone else, even if it only needs to do so for a moment. Because it came to win games and would worry later about hearts. Because it never lost control: of itself, of its opponents, of its destiny. They celebrated at the final whistle, of course, their 4-2 victory over Croatia confirmed: Hugo Lloris led his teammates in an Icelandic thunderclap.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was cutting loose — leaping to his feet, punching the air. Gianni Infantino, the FIFA president, presented France’s players with the trophy that they had craved for so long, that their country and their heroes last held 20 years ago, that all of the emotion, constrained from the moment they arrived in Russia, came rushing out in waves.