It’s fair to say that it’d been quite a while since we had a classic World Cup final. In 2006, Italy won a fairly dull match on penalties; in 2010, Spain beat the Dutch one-nil and Germany won by the same margin in 2014, with the winner coming late in extra time. Today, though, all of that changed as France became champions for the second time in the highest-scoring final since 1966! The match had everything and, above all, it was a real goal fest – a game in which a lot of goals were scored.
Croatia started brightly, pressing high up the pitch, harrying and hounding (=putting pressure on, fighting hard and leaving no space for) the French to get the ball back when they lost possession. It was France who drew first blood, though, as yet again Croatia conceded a goal from a set piece. To make matters worse, it was an own goal! France whipped the ball in from a free kick and Mario Mandzukic headed into his own net.
Croatia drew level a few minutes later from another free kick. Croatia played the ball out wide; it was headed beck into the danger zone and Ivan Perisic knocked the ball down and then hammered home from the edge of the box. One-one. Fate then dealt the Croats a cruel blow. France won a corner, which Griezmann curled into the penalty area. Matuidi tried to get on the end of it, but didn’t make much contact. Some French players claimed Perisic, who was marking Matuidi, handled the ball and it went to VAR! The referee spent several minutes looking at the incident and then decided to award a penalty. It seemed a harsh decision. Griezmann stepped up to take it – and scored. It was two-one to France at the break.
The second half was very open. Croatia kept pressing and won a string of corners. They looked dangerous in the air, but Varane was a rock in the heart of the French defence. France scored their third goal on the counter attack, with Pogba side-footing home after some great work down the wing from Mbappe. They then rubbed salt into the wound by making it four. Hernández made a brilliant run down the left and Mbappe finished it off, becoming the first teenager to score in a final since the mighty Pele.
Five minutes later, Croatia showed the never-say-die spirit that’s won them so many admirers and pulled one back. It was down to a howler (=a terrible mistake that usually leads to a goal for the other team) from the French keeper (and captain) Hugo Lloris. There was a back pass from one of his defenders, and he then dawdled too long on the ball. His attempt to clear the ball was intercepted by Mandzukic, who scored one of the easiest goals of his career.
Sadly, though, it was too little, too late. France hung on to their lead and were crowned champions, whilst Croatia can go home with heads held high.
Previously, France had booked their place in the final after a one-nil win against neighbours Belgium in last week’s semi-finals. The match certainly wasn’t a classic +it was basically a bit boring and nothing much happened, and the Belgians even complained afterwards that the French had been guilty of playing anti-football! In reality, they simply had a more balanced team, and in N’Golo Kanté, they have maybe the greatest defensive midfielder playing anywhere in the world at the moment. He shields the defence brilliantly, his work rate is phenomenal and he seems to win every tackle he ever makes. In an age in which we worship goalscorers, he’s also incredibly underrated.
It was a slow start and the game took time to get going, but as the first half went on, France began to take control and dominate their opponents. Six minutes into the second half, they took the lead through Samuel Umtiti’s header. Belgium never really looked like getting back into it. After a great tournament, they’d finally run out of ideas – and run out of legs (=they were tired and had no energy left). They were over-reliant on the wizardry of Eden Hazard, and Lukaku couldn’t get into the game.
In the other semi-final, the young England team finally reached the end of the road. After taking an early lead through Kieran Trippier’s beautifully-taken free kick, they had the better of the first half, creating a couple of clear chances that they really should have put away (=scored from). Croatia made a tactical change in the second half and suddenly looked much more dangerous. Everything was coming through Luka Modrić, who’s the kind of creative genius England so clearly lack. His use of the ball was wonderful: he hardly ever gave the ball away, he was great at anticipating the runs of his teammates, and when needed, he could deliver the killer pass.
With only twenty minutes left on the clock, Ivan Perisic scored an equaliser and Croatia started to really turn the screw (=put serious pressure on England). By the time the game went to extra time, England were really on the ropes (=doing badly and looking likely to fail). It was a matter of when rather than if they would score. The decisive moment came in the 109th minute when striker Mario Mandzukic, who was playing with a badly damaged knee, managed to sneak in behind the England defence, which had turned off for a second or two, to head in the winner.
England’s dream of making it to their first World Cup final for more than half a century was over . . . and I sat and had a little cry! In the end, though, you have to take your hat off to the Croats. They out-fought us . . . and out-thought us! Their experience showed, they had more creativity and they were ruthless in front of goal. They deserved to win.
And that’s that for another four years.
Roll on August the 12th, when Arsenal have their first game of the new Premier League season.
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- Can you think of any other games you’ve seen that were real goal fests?
- Which other teams / players have won plenty of new admirers this World Cup?
- Can you think of any times that fate has dealt a team a cruel blow? What happened?
- How else could you rub salt into someone’s wounds?
- Can you think of any other players / films / books / artists / musicians you think are very underrated?