France owe their global conquest to Euro debacle

The seeds of France's 4-2 victory over Croatia that gave Les Bleus their second world title may have been sown during a summer evening in Paris two years ago.

Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe in action for France Source: AAP

The French stormed into the final of EURO 2016 with a brand of open, entertaining football that was supposed to sweep Portugal off their feet.

But the proud Portuguese had other ideas and they played a strong defensive game to prevail 1-0 in extra time for a major surprise.

French coach Didier Deschamps learned his lesson that night and he was not going to fall into that trap again as the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off in Russia just over a month ago.

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Gallic flair and exuberance were replaced by a no-frills pragmatic approach that was governed by the motto that the end justifies the means.

Having at this disposition two exceptional defenders in Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, two world-class midfielders like Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante and quick forwards like Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, Deschamps had the necessary backbone for an assault on the world crown.

Defence and counter-attack was the way to go and the French did it very effectively.

The outcome was a deserved victory for one of the pre-tournament hot shots over sentimental favourites Croatia, who won the hearts of many neutrals by their stoic resistance and cultured football throughout the event.

There is no question that France were the finest ad strongest team at the tournament in Russia that reached its climax with such a high-scoring final in Moscow.

But the lingering doubt will always be whether they would have been able to see off the classy Croats without the benefit of two controversial decisions.

Question marks will remain over the dubious free kick earned by Griezmann that paved the way for France's first goal from a Mario Mandzukic deflection and the even more contentious award of a penalty via VAR when Ivan Perisic, who had brought the scores level at 1-1 with a blistering shot, handled the ball.

All in all victory went to the better team but Croatia have every right to wonder what might have been.

The French, fresh from their high-class semi-final 1-0 victory over Belgium, could not cope with the volume of play from Croatia, who were led as usual by sublime playmaker Luka Modric, who was a popular winner of the Golden Ball for player of the tournament.
They were outplayed in the first half and were somewhat lucky to go into the break 2-1 up but they subsequently 'earned' their victory with two lovely goals from counter-attacks by Pogba and Mbappe.

Croatia narrowed the margin thanks to a moment of madness from Hugo Lloris who gifted Mandzukic with the easiest goal of his career.

But by then the damage had been done and there was no way back for Croatia who will go home pleased with their overall performance but convinced that they did not get the rub of the green in the first half when they probably played their finest football of the whole tournament.

Tired legs certainly came into the equation. Croatia had played three 'grand finals' in 10 days to get to the Luzhniki final and France's relative freshness - their semi with Belgium was a day earlier than Croatia's against England - was evident in the final stages of the game when the latter could have added to their score and make the result more emphatic.

Deschamps, who was captain of the French side that won their maiden world title in 1998, thus becomes the third man in history to win the World Cup as a player and a coach.

Brazil's Mario Zagalo did it in 1958 and 1962 as a player and in 1970 as a coach while Germany's Franz Beckenbauer won it as captain in 1974 and as coach in 1990.


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4 min read
Published 16 July 2018 at 7:10am
By Philip Micallef