France won the Fifa World Cup for the second time by overcoming Croatia’s bold challenge in a thrilling final in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Didier Deschamps’ side repeated the success on home soil at France ’98 by a margin that hardly looked possible as Croatia stood toe-to-toe with the favourites for an hour.
France’s victory meant Deschamps, who captained them 20 years ago, became just the third man to win the competition as a player and coach.
Croatia also felt their luck deserted them, but ultimately France ran out victorious to erase the memories of the loss to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final in Paris.
In one of the most exciting World Cup finals of the modern era, played out to a soundtrack of thunder, Croatia and France delivered an enthralling spectacle that brought the highest goal tally in a final since 1966, a pitch invasion, and a controversial intervention from the video assistant referee that had a huge influence on the outcome.
France took the lead after 18 minutes when Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick deflected in off Mario Mandzukic’s head – but Croatia were by far the better side in the first half and deservedly equalised courtesy of Ivan Perisic’s left-foot finish.
Croatia were left nursing a burning sense of injustice when France restored their lead seven minutes before half-time through Griezmann’s penalty, awarded by referee Nestor Pitana for handball against Perisic after a lengthy delay while VAR was consulted.
In a compelling second half, France looked to have wrapped it up with two strikes in six minutes from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe either side of the hour mark.
Croatia, however, showed unbreakable spirit and even threatened a comeback when Mandzukic took advantage of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris hesitating over a clearance to pull a goal back.
But France closed out the win to bring redemption for Deschamps after defeat at the Euros two years ago, sparking wild celebrations and ensuring Lloris lifted the World Cup.
France are the team for all seasons – possessing an all-round quality that has carried them to this World Cup triumph.
When that is added to an element of good fortune, it can prove a deadly combination.
Croatia will complain bitterly that Griezmann went down theatrically for the free-kick that led to Mandzukic’s own goal, and they will also feel Perisic’s handball was not clear-cut enough for VAR to make that decisive intervention just before half-time.
What is not in doubt, however, is the sheer quality this France side possesses, a potent attack the spearhead for a strong midfield and outstanding defence.
When Croatia threatened to come back once more early in the second half, Pogba and Mbappe’s strikes from the edge of the area past the static Danijel Subasic – who still looked less than fully fit after injuring a hamstring in the quarter-final against Russia – proved the defining passage of this final.
France celebrated joyously at the final whistle after claiming the sport’s greatest trophy once more, with Deschamps – the coach whose conservative methods have often brought criticism – tossed high into the air by his players.