July 16, 2018

Horse 2443 - Tout Est Possible: Les Blues Ajouter La Deuxième Étoile

France 4 - Croatia 2
Mandžukić (o.g.) 18' 
Perišić 28'
Greizmann (pen) 38' 
Pogba 59' 
Mbeppe 65'
Mandžukić 68'

The World Cup final in Moscow was held on an afternoon which threatened to bring thunder and lightning. The truth is that I can not recall even a single World Cup match where it has rained. They must exist, surely? As the mercury peeked into the 30s in the Russian summer, from my vantage point on the couch in our parlour in Sydney, it shrugged its shoulders and walked away after thinking that positive Celsius was too hard.  So as I sat on the couch, not buried under the blanket because the cat was already on it and moving her would be cruel, I was very much envious of the 22 players, green grass and the football on the television screen.

The final started tentatively for France but nobody had told Croatia that they needed to be cautious. Modric was there or there about for much of the opening passage of play and it wasn't until the quarter hour mark that France even managed put the ball in Croatia's half. When they did, Croatia kinds of panicked and Borozovic brought down Greizmamn to award France their first scoring opportunity of the game.
Greizmann's free kick lifted into a giant rabble of players and miraculously found its way into the goal, defeating the Croatian goalkeeper. Upon the replay, it was only then that the world saw that the ball had taken a deflection off Mandzukic's head and in was totted up as an own goal to him.

From here the match threatened to fall into indiscipline and Croatia were lucky to escape without any cards of any colour  as they proceeded to undertake a policy of unnecessary slide tackles. One of their charges forward saw Croatia to only win the ball but meant that they were suddenly on the counter attack.
A ball was delivered to the right hand side of the box, where it was lifted and then Vrsalijk headed the ball back to the edge of the area, wherein Perisic took a shot right through the centre of the crowd and his unsighted shot was rewarded with a goal.

At 1-1 the match opened up and both sides stole the ball off each other and neither of them could control the centre  of the field. For about ten minutes play passed back and forth and then this World Cup Final gave us our obligatory moment of controversy to be talked about through the ages.
France had won a fairly routine corner and has the ball swung into the box, it dipped and crossed the by line after it hit Perisic's hand. Originally the referee appeared to do nothing but listened to the calls from the French players for a penalty and referred it to the VAR. Now the way that I interpret the laws are that there has to be a movement of hand to ball rather than ball to hand, and if the VAR is called for, it is there to confirm or deny a suspicion that the referee had. Now I have no idea if the referee saw the incident and decided if it was an infringement that needed confirming or if he saw nothing and the VAR opened up something that he had never seen before.
He took forever to point to the spot and Griezmann took almost no effort in drilling the penalty shot past the goalkeeper's right.

France went into the break at one goal up, which may or may not have been deserved, but they came out in the second half with the intent to kill the game off. They got their desire just before the hour when Paul Pogba got one shot into a crowded 18 yard box and after bouncing back, he took a second shot which he certainly did not waste.

France went off to confirm their intent to utterly destroy all of Croatia's hopes when in the 65th minute, Mbappe somehow got a very fast shot that skidded across the field to sneak past the Croatian goalkeeper and score France's fourth. It was shot from just beyond the top of the half ring of the 18 yard box, and I think that it was probably from about 27 yards away.

At 4-1 up, France thought that the match was dead, cremated and buried but Croatia who were still playing like the World Cup depended on it kept hope alive.
On a push forward, Umtiti passed the ball back to the goalkeeper Lloris and either nobody told him that there was anyone there or he was just too casual with the ball but Lloris looked up and saw Mandzukic in front of him. Lloris rolled the ball to his left and that was enough for Mandzukic to steal the ball and score a very cheeky goal from only a few yards away.

There then came twenty tense minutes where Croatia moved forward but tired legs prevented them from being effective and creating any real chances, and France were content to absorb and diffuse anything coming forwards. It was as if the first fifteen minutes had been cut and pasted on the end but played at a slower speed.

I have to admit that this was possibly the most engaging and lovely World Cup that I have ever seen and a lot of that has to do with a shifting in world power. Germany would fall to the champion's curse, Argentina self imploded, Brazil were stunned that they could be beaten so easily, England surprised everyone by actually being good for a change, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States stunned everyone by not being good enough to qualify. The only howler of a result was Saudi Arabia who were thumped 5-0 by Russia and although Englands 6-1 defeat of Peru was comprehensive, Peru didn't look terrible while they were on the end of a hiding.

Amazingly, this World Cup which was held in Russia hasn't really been plagued by the underlying tensions which have been brewing since the hosts were announced. Everyone seems to have forgotten about the annexation of Crimea or the meddling in international affairs which have installed a polezni durak in the White House. The poisoning of  Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, have been unremarked on much either.
Football for the last 33 days has been so much bigger and better than grown up things like love, death, war, espionage, or at very least has been a distraction from those things; even in a country which has a dubious record.

The last time that a Frenchman entered Moscow to steal the silverware, Napoleon left after the city had been set on fire and his army was in total disarray. This time Didier Deschamps' side leave with le Coupe du Monde and France can add a second star above their chicken on their kit.

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