A golden goal is set

Team blends, can France?

By Keir RadnedgeIn Russia
  • Published 16.07.18
Kylian Mbappe, the Best Young Player of the tournament, celebrates near the trophy after France won the World Cup on Sunday, beating Croatia 4-2. Mbappe, 19, became the first teenager to score in a final since Pele in 1958. “It was a superb goal, especially since it was a goal that gave us wings,” Mbappe said of his goal, France’s fourth of the game. (Reuters)

Even President Donald Trump got in on the act after France won the World Cup for the second time. He broke off from preparing to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki to hail Les Bleus' 4-2 victory over Croatia in Moscow.

Trump tweeted: "Congratulations to France, who played extraordinary soccer, on winning the 2018 World Cup. Additionally, congratulations to President Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup Tournament - one of the best ever!"

While Trump's friendly words for Putin can be read as cordiality ahead of their summit, his acknowledgement of the French victory was ironic considering the contrast between his own attitudes to immigration and the background of the team put together by coach Didier Deschamps.

As a game the final itself was one of the most entertaining for many years. Not since 1958 have six goals been scored inside the regulation 90 minutes in a final, and that occasion was the 5-2 victory of Brazil - one of the greatest of national teams - over hosts Sweden in Stockholm.

Much of the credit was due to Croatia for the way they recovered after conceding an own goal and for their much-vaunted fighting qualities which meant they never looked beaten, not even in the last minutes when the match was clearly beyond them. Their competitive spirit also made France produce by far their best performance of a tournament that will live long in the memory.

Comparisons with the 1958 final may be drawn further. The Brazilian team was an ethnic mix from that vast country and two of the goals in the final were scored by the black teenager Pele. Fast forward to 2018, and in Kylian Mbappe France boasted the first teenager to score a goal in a final in all that time.

At the end of the final, the 19-year-old Mbappe carried away not only a winner's medal but the official Fifa award as Best Young Player at the tournament.

Surprise outsiders Croatia will, however, long believe that they were denied what they deserved by a controversial penalty decision that split observers of the final even though it was decided after a historic first use of the VAR video screen.

France took an 18th-minute lead through a Mario Mandzukic own goal but Croatia levelled through a superb Ivan Perisic goal in the 28th. France regained the lead after Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana awarded them a spot kick.

The judgment will always be contentious: Perisic had been jumping for the ball behind Blaise Matuidi and was unfortunate that his arm movement should have been judged deliberate.

Griezmann converted the 36th-minute kick; so France reclaimed a lead they never lost again before collecting the trophy in the thunderstorm that greeted the presentation of the cup from Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

Croatia will always believe that, in restoring the French lead, it turned the game decisively against the unfashionable outsiders who had threatened the game's establishment.

France certainly took ruthless advantage. They went on to extend their control in the second half through Paul Pogba (59th) and Mbappe (65th) before an awful blunder by goalkeeper captain Hugo Lloris gifted Mandzukic a second for Croatia (69th).

Didier Deschamps thus became only the third man after Brazilian Mario Zagallo and German Franz Beckenbauer to win the World Cup as both player and manager.

Back in 1998, when France won their first World Cup, the victory of an ethnically diverse team - so-called 'Black-Blanc-Beur' (Black-White-Arab) - was hailed as a statement about a progressively diverse society.

But successive years did not vindicate the dream as Right-wing extremism pushed the underprivileged African immigrant families into the suburbs.

Mbappe is a child of such Parisian suburbs, with Cameroonian and Algerian parents. Immigrant legacies are similarly "owned" by World Cup-winning team-mates such as N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.

Mbappe acknowledges his roots. He grew up in Bondy, which is north of the centre of Paris, and since evolving from poor kid to million-dollar superstar - with Monaco and now Paris Saint-Germain - he has kept his feet on the ground.

All his match fees and bonuses from this World Cup are already promised to charities and community projects.

Man-of-the-match Antoine Griezmann was asked about that ethnicity theme after the match.

He is the son of a German father and Portuguese mother and learned his football in the Spanish Basque country with Real Sociedad of San Sebastian. But he was careful not to let the euphoria of the moment run away with him.

He said: "This was for the France we all love. We have a lot of players from different origins but we are all united when we put on the same jersey with the coquerel; we have the same state of mind and everything we do we do for each other and that's beautiful to see."

Whether French society can achieve the same is a different issue. No one will be in a hurry to paint such an optimistic picture this time.

Official awards

Modric (Golden Ball for best player); Mbappe (Best Young Player); Harry Kane (Golden Shoe for highest scorer); Thibaut Courtois (Golden Glove for best goalkeeper).