Tag: Antoine Griezmann

Mbappe powers France to World Cup glory, Croatia reeling after VAR controversy

Mark Ogden, Senior Writer ESPN FC


MOSCOW — Three thoughts on France 4-2 Croatia as Les Bleus won their second World Cup.

1. Mbappe magic propels France to World Cup glory

Kylian Mbappe capped his debut World Cup by becoming the first teenager to score in the final since Pele in 1958 as France beat Croatia to become world champions for a second time.

Mbappe, only 19, scored the fourth goal in France’s 4-2 victory in Moscow to take his tally for the tournament to four goals in seven games.

He also produced some devastating bursts down the right flank for Didier Deschamps’ team to cause panic in the Croatia defence.

But in a game that looked set to be dominated by VAR decisions after France’s first two goals were surrounded by controversy, a second-half surge by the French clinched their first world title since 1998.

It was not a straightforward victory for Les Bleus, however. Mario Mandzukic’s own goal, from Antoine Griezmann’s 19th minute free-kick, gave France the lead, but it was cancelled out by a stunning Ivan Perisic goal nine minutes later.

France then regained their lead on 38 minutes after a VAR review led to referee Nestor Pitana awarding a penalty following a Perisic handball.

Croatia’s sense of injustice counted for little, however, with France scoring through Paul Pogba and Mbappe to go 4-1 ahead by the 62nd minute.

A Hugo Lloris error gifted Mandzukic a goal for Croatia on 68 minutes, but by that stage, France had the game won.

2. France get VAR off the hook

This World Cup final could have ended up as being all about VAR after a bad first half for the video assistant referee system.

Fortunately, for the good of the game, France’s football ability came to the fore in the second half to make the story about them, rather than the officials, but VAR unquestionably has glitches to resolve, and they resurfaced in this game.

The biggest error was the awarding a penalty to France on 35 minutes after the ball hit the hand of Croatia winger Perisic. Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana was called by the VAR to review the incident, and after three minutes, he pointed to the spot. Was it a penalty? It looked extremely harsh, but similar ones have been given in this World Cup. Pitana could have, and should have ,rejected the penalty and waved play on, but VAR put him in a difficult position. Before that incident, France took the lead through a free kick which was headed into his own net by Mandzukic. Pogba appeared to be offside when the ball was played in, but VAR did not call for a review.

And although Griezmann went down easily to win the free kick — perhaps with no contact — VAR is unable to review such incidents.

The system needs work, but fortunately, it did not end up as the decisive factor in the World Cup final.

3. A game too far for Croatia

For the opening 19 minutes of this game, Croatia looked controlled, hungry and capable of shocking France to win the country’s first-ever World Cup, but as the clock ticked down, time caught up with Zlatko Dalic’s team.

Having played extra time on three occasions to get to the final — the most recent only four days ago in the semifinal against England– Dalic’s ageing squad was always going to face an almighty challenge against a team with such youth and pace as France.

And although Perisic’s stunning goal gave Croatia hope by cancelling out France’s opener — a Mandzukic own goal — they always seemed to be pushing against the tide from the moment the first goal went in.

Luka Modric and Rakitic were also given a much tougher time by Pogba, N’Golo Kante and substitute Steven NZonzi, and Croatia had no answer to Mbappe when the teenager sprinted down the right flank.

But while Croatia may have run out of steam, their achievement in getting to the final itself is a huge one.

And with so many of this team in or around their 30s, it may be some time before Croatia has a chance as good as this to win the World Cup.

World Cup final: France have barely broken a sweat, but don’t write off Croatia

Gab Marcotti, Senior Writer ESPN FC

MOSCOW — View Sunday’s World Cup final the way most folks under the age of 30 consume sports — or so we’re told — and it’s entirely one-sided. When it comes to social media, viral highlight videos, cross-pollination with other celebrities, commercial endorsements and overall eyeball-catching power, it’s over before it has even begun.

France wins.

The entire Croatia starting XI has only a few million Instagram followers more than France midfielder Paul Pogba alone. Some of them don’t even have blue check marks (gasp!), while others don’t have accounts at all (double gasp!).

View the match from a different vantage point — pedigree — and it’s thoroughbreds versus wild horses who escaped to the hills. From Pogba to Antoine Griezmann to Raphael Varane to Kylian Mbappe, most of these French players have been under the spotlight since they were pre-teens. This World Cup final, for them, is destiny, part of their road map.

France are probably the deepest, most talented squad at Russia 2018 and there is a sense of both entitlement and expectation about their run to the final. They pretty much did it without breaking a sweat, at each turn doing just enough to dispatch the opposition, knowing they could raise their game at any moment. In many games, it felt like playing one-on-one basketball with a big brother who let you keep the score close but who — you just knew — could turn it on at will if he so chose.

Croatia? Talk about ugly ducklings. Mario Mandzukic has the distinction of being rejected by both Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone. Dejan Lovren, despite reaching the Champions League final with Liverpool in May, is routinely derided (often unfairly) as an accident waiting to happen. In February, Domagoj Vida was sent off after just 16 minutes of his Champions League debut for new club Besiktas.

Captain Luka Modric is a legitimate superstar, who might be a Ballon d’Or candidate, but is also a guy who is hated by large chunks of the country for his role in an ugly affair of perjury, corruption and embezzlement. Two years ago, at Euro 2016, some Croatian fans, so incensed with their federation and some of their players, fired flares onto the pitch in an effort to get their own team kicked out of the competition.

Little has come easy for Croatia in Russia, either. Nikola Kalinic was sent home after he refused to come on as a substitute late in the opening group-stage match against Nigeria.

They also fell behind in each of their three knockout games and somehow clawed their way back, twice needing penalties and once extra time — Wednesday’s 2-1 victory against England — to advance.

The difference is just as stark when it comes to the two managers. Both Didier Deschamps and Zlatko Dalic were hard-tackling defensive midfielders who were at the 1998 World Cup. Except Deschamps, one of the best ever in his position, was on the pitch and helped France lift the trophy for the first time in their history. Dalic was in the stands as a spectator, having paid his own way.

Upon retirement, Deschamps immediately went on to manage wealthy clubs like Monaco, Juventus and Marseille before getting the France gig in 2012. Dalic, meanwhile, held assistant- and youth-coach jobs before working in Croatia, Albania and Saudi Arabia (at a newly created club), before finally getting some recognition in the United Arab Emirates. He became Croatia boss only last October and only with the proviso that he would be gone if he failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Look, Croatia are a talented side. It’s just that a country with a population smaller than metro Detroit will, out of necessity, field a team where A-list stars like Modric and Ivan Rakitic share a place in the starting lineup with lesser-known players, to put it kindly. Guys like Ivan Strinic, who was released by his club last month and has made only 31 league starts in the previous three seasons, and Ante Rebic, who has bounced around five clubs over the past five years.

France, on the other hand, have three of the five most expensive players in history and one of them, Ousmane Dembele, is likely to be on the bench. They also boast the Premier League Player of the Year from two seasons back, N’Golo Kante, and the most expensive signing in the history of Bayern Munich, Corentin Tolisso; he is also likely to start on the bench.

They also get the luxury of an extra day’s rest since their semifinal, a 1-0 win vs. Belgium, was on Tuesday. And they face a team that, if you add up the three extra-time exertions Croatia had to battle through, has effectively played an additional 90 minutes of football.

At first glance, this might appear as one-sided on the pitch as it is in terms of hype, pedigree and name recognition. But lean in and look a bit closer.

For all their talent, France have played conservative, no-frills football throughout the tournament, in keeping with Deschamps’ mantra. Most of their goals have come on set pieces or counterattacks. They are a big team who have played with the humility of a small team, and that’s not a bad thing. However, if they go a goal down, it does make you wonder whether they can kick their performance into a higher gear.

Plus, there’s a psychological angle: Two years ago, at Euro 2016, France were heavily favored over Portugal in the final, yet they somehow contrived to throw it away on home soil. Sometimes demons from our past come back to haunt us.

Perhaps these teams are best summed up by the welcome message on the Instagram accounts of their two midfield generals. Pogba’s reads “Born Ready” and, indeed, his whole life has been prelude to this: big games, big stage, big hype.

And Modric? “The Best Things Never Come Easy”.

Which, if Croatia win at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday, will be one of the most prophetic statements ever recorded on social media. It might also serve as a warning to France, who have rarely found the need to get out of cruise control in this tournament.