Vive la France! Mbappe, Pogba and Griezmann rule the world

France were in trouble despite leading against Croatia in the World Cup final but a couple of moments of genius from Pogba and Mbappe did the trick

Say what you like about France, their style of play or lack thereof, but they were the only one of the contending teams to come to Russia and hit their marks. They delivered the standout performance of the tournament, that 4-3 against Argentina in the second round, they gave the world the teenage breakout star in Kylian Mbappe and they had too much in one way or another for every opponent they faced.

There might be grumbles over the fact that a team containing so many talented players could and should be playing a lot more attractively but where are the much vaunted stars in the other favoured teams? Long gone.

Didier Deschamps has kept with his structure throughout the World Cup and indeed through his time in charge. Considering they froze in the Euro 2016 final, and looked like doing so again for much of the first half against Croatia, France delivered a stunning start to the second half that left Croatia in no doubt who was boss.

And when the step-up was needed, it was Paul Pogba and the boy wonder Mbappe who did the trick. Antoine Griezmann kept them in front in the first-half – with his freekick nicking off Mario Mandzukic for the opener and his penalty giving France a lead they scarcely deserved.

Meanwhile Pogba might not have caught all the headlines during the tournament so far but his pass for Mbappe’s run in the lead up to France’s third goal was world class.

Croatia were asserting themselves again by that stage but may have been lured into Deschamps’ trap. If a team comes onto Les Bleus they always run the risk of one well-placed pass opening the game up through the right channel for Mbappe. Pogba found the required ball and the young Paris St-Germain forward did the rest. Griezmann nudged the cross back into the path of Pogba who made no mistake on the left foot.

There may well have been question marks over Danijel Subasic’s goalkeeping on that one and he should have done better with his former Monaco team-mate Mbappe’s effort minutes later. The ball was not right in the corner but the damage was nonetheless done.

Mbappe had his World Cup final goal – the first teenager to score in this fixture since Pele in 1958 – and that tells you everything you need to know about the company this young man keeps. He experienced a difficult first half – which went by with barely a significant touch – but he persevered and took his chance when it came.

He will now be mentioned in the same breath not only as Pele but also Ronaldo Fenomeno who lit up France ’98. He even had time to high-five a member of Pussy Riot, who invaded the pitch during the second half. Hugo Lloris’s subsequent blunder was reduced to a mere footnote.

Kylian Mbappe France Croatia World Cup final 2018

Antoine Griezmann France Croatia World Cup Final 15072018

And so France have their second world title 20 years on from the first. Mbappe was not even born then and many of the rest of this squad are probably too young to have any memories of it either. What Zinedine Zidane and his team-mates achieved in front of their own fans in Saint-Denis back then was historical; a true breakthrough for France as a football nation.

Deschamps held the trophy aloft as captain that night and he holds it as manager in Moscow today. He was a disciplined, tenacious player who rarely did anything flashy but retired with his cabinet full of medals.

His team execute their game with a similar rigidity as the matches against Australia, Peru, Denmark and Uruguay would demonstrate. But when they had to go a gear above – beating a Belgium team who on the other side of the draw could well have gone close to winning the cup and dismantling Argentina and Lionel Messi – they did it.

And here, with their backs to the wall against the Croatian upstarts, they found the spark. The game was played in hot, heavy, humid conditions. Thunder clapped throughout the 90 minutes.

And just as the trophy presentation commenced, with Fifa president Gianni Infantino joined by the president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, the French president Emmanuel Macron, the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Uefa president Aleksandr Seferin, the heavens opened.

Suddenly a refreshing chill came over the Luzhniki and this big, cavernous bowl filled with water. Deschamps was soaked to the bone by the time he accepted his medal from under Mr Putin’s umbrella. France might well have played football full of tension for spells at this World Cup but here was their release.

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