In a quiet bar in Kernersville, NC at 11 a.m., there were three families sitting watching a game that was blasted across all twenty or so large televisions and a projector. While att the main bar, baseball was played on the screens, a few of us gathered to watch professional football. Not the hand-egg kind, where the foot is used once or twice, but actual football, where the feet are used in tandem with the head to play a beautiful game appreciated around the globe.
On July 17, 2018, the world stopped in Europe, Latin America and parts of Asia to watch the World Cup Final between France and Croatia as they played in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The game finished with a tense score of 4-2, allowing France to be crowned once again as the world champions of football. France was undoubtedly the favorite to win, with a 53 percent chance that was predicted by the bookies back in the UK.
The game started well for Croatia, with the aggressive midfield and forward play that took France’s Maginot Line by surprise. Modric and Mandzukic of Croatia’s midfield made smart plays, passing out to the wings whereby the wingers tried repeatedly to cross into the box to no avail.
Disaster struck for Croatia at the 18-minute mark where Croatia scored, giving France a shaky 1-0 lead. Ten minutes later, Perisic scored an absolute screamer of a goal from just inside the box, burying it into the corner of the French goal. It was a product of another clever attack by the Croatian midfield, with a well-placed cross into the box from the right wing.
The ball deflected off a French player, onto the chest of a Croat, who passed the ball to Perisic. Perisic took the touch with his right foot, then cut left past a Frenchman and sunk the ball into the right corner of the goal with his left foot. It was outstanding football, and entirely what is expected at this level. 28 minutes gone, and it’s an even 1-1.
Less than five minutes later, more disaster struck for Croatia, as a challenge that went wrong in the box awarded France with a penalty. French striker Griezmann stepped up, bringing the score to a bitterly disappointing 2-1. At the half, it looked grim for the French, as Croatia had maintained the majority of the possession and the attacking chances against the French, but were still down 2-1. Croatia could still come back and win this.
The ten minutes of rest between the halves seemed to have brought the French up to their superstar roster potential, and at 59 minutes, Paul Pogba scored France’s first real goal bringing the score to a 3-1 for France. Just six minutes later, Mbappé, at the age of 19, scored, becoming only the second teenager to have ever scored in a World Cup final. This was last accomplished by Pelé of Brazil in 1958. With 65 minutes gone, France was up four goals to Croatia’s one.
Four minutes later, in the 69th minute, France’s goalkeeper seemed to not have been paying due diligence to Croatia’s Mandzukic, who took the ball from him and scored. 4-2. What followed was a tense twenty minutes left for France, who were desperately defending the unrelenting Croat assault. This was well reflected by the possession statistics of the game, with France having a measly 34 percent and the Croats with a dominant 66 percent.
When the final whistle was blown, the range of human emotion on the faces of the Croatian players showed just how much it meant to them. For once in this World Cup, the status quo had been maintained, but at this point, the world really did not want it to. The Croats deserved to score more goals, and they had put up a fiery and intense resistance to the French.
What is to be admired most is that after the 65th minute, when Mbappe scored the fourth goal against the Croats, that they did not go the way of turning the football game into a mass casualty event of slide tackling. In recent memory, this World Cup final was one of the better ones, and this World Cup as a whole was a heck of an emotional rollercoaster ride.