France has done it. After a remarkable victory over Croatia, France is the 2018 FIFA World Cup champion.
The French were tasked with knocking out a gauntlet run of soccer giants over the last couple of weeks but Les Bleus dug deep and ground out victories over Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium, to set-up a grande finale against Croatia on Sunday, July 15 -winning by a 4-2 score.
So how did the French do it?
France began its campaign with a drab 2-1 victory over Australia on June 16 and played like a Bugatti in second gear, winning street races without having to break the speed limit. There were times when France was like former five-weight world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, who always knew how much to give to win, but hardly ever gave more, even though he could. And there were times when France was like LeBron James, posting highlight-reel triple doubles and making it look easy.
Very few attacking players announced themselves in France’s first game one month ago, and the country was aching for a new hero to come-of-age. But when one did, bang – Kylian Mbappé, a player hailed as the new Pelé, the former three-time World Cup winner with Brazil, had arrived. And boy, was he worth waiting for.
Read on to relive all of the key moments in France’s incredible 2018 World Cup win.
This is France — the national soccer team crowned FIFA World Cup champions on Sunday, after a thrilling four-week competition that contained so much drama it has been touted as one of the best international tournaments of all time.
France began its 2018 World Cup campaign with a drab 2-1 victory over Australia on June 16. While it got the win, it did so without getting out of second gear. Like a Bugatti that beats a Holden Commodore in a street race without breaking the speed limit, France cruised to victory with no breakout performances from any of its big-name attacking talents. N’Golo Kanté performed well in the middle of the park, Raphaël Varane kept things tight in defence, and Hugo Lloris proved to be a safe pair of hands between the posts. It was a solid enough win, sure — but fans wanted more.
France then picked up a 1-0 win over Peru on June 21 and qualified for the knockout stages of the competition after just two Group C matches. Mbappé started to show precisely what he was capable of with lightning-quick runs, flicks and tricks out wide on the right, and the game’s only goal. But it was once again Kanté who was head and shoulders above the competition as he commanded the entirety of the pitch.
France failed to beat Denmark in the team’s third and final group game, but the 0-0 draw meant the Danes had done enough to progress to the next round of the tournament. This sparked wild celebrations from the Denmark team — celebrations the French were not really a part of.
France may not have celebrated as much as the Danes in the last Group C match, but it sure caused a lot of noise throughout its stunning 4-3 win over Argentina on June 30. The victory was the country’s first big scalp of the competition and it meant Lionel Messi had to pack his bags and go home. Benjamin Pavard, who was yet to announce himself at the World Cup, scored one of the best goals of the summer when he let rip a one-touch volley from the edge of the box. Watch the stunning goal below:
Pavard may have been responsible for one moment of magic, but it was Pogba who produced a spellbinding performance from start to finish. The 25-year-old utterly dominated Argentina’s midfield, almost rendering them non-existent.
But at the heart of France’s stunning win was a phenomenal performance from teenage forward Kylian Mbappé. The 19-year-old had been threatening to tear a team apart, and Argentina was the victim in waiting. Mbappé outshone Messi with dart-like dribbling, with pace to burn, and with elite finishing. With the man of the match display, Mbappé moved way past former France striker Thierry Henry, who he had long been compared to, and ever closer to one of soccer’s untouchables — Brazil icon Pelé.
Watch the highlights again, below.
France then beat Uruguay 2-0 in the quarterfinal with Griezmann and Varane writing the headlines, and Giroud continuing his role as France’s unsung hero. Griezmann provided the cross that led to Varane’s opening goal, a header, but the forward also scored the game’s second. Though Varane helped France on its way, his defensive ingenuity cannot be underestimated, especially considering the attack Uruguay had at its disposal. Finally, Olivier Giroud — a player oft-maligned by cruel social media users — demonstrated why he was France coach Didier Deschamps’ first-choice striker. He may not ever have the leadership skills or predatory instincts of Harry Kane, but Giroud has expert hold-up play and link-up play — something he showed in abundance on July 6.
Lloris also had to work hard to earn his clean sheet in the 2-0 win. The goalkeeper had to scramble across his line when Martín Cáceres attempted to equalise just before half-time, and managed to provide a crucial save at a critical moment in the game. The save was even lauded as one of the best of the tournament. Relive it below:
What a save by Hugo Lloris!
…but Godin *probably* should've scored the rebound ???? pic.twitter.com/itE0yGv1Nf
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 6, 2018
Source: Business Insider.
France’s route to the final was a gauntlet run. After dispatching South American juggernauts like Argentina and Uruguay, one might hope for a respite, not matter how brief. But in Belgium, Les Bleus faced a team that could have, on another day, been its equal. Belgium possessed one of the scariest front-lines, one of the most varied midfields, and a stringent backline. The way the match was built-up, it could have been the final.
But for all the talk of Belgium’s “Golden Generation,” France, once again, delivered when it mattered most — and cooly swept its opponents aside with a 1-0 win on July 10.
Samuel Umtiti scored the game’s only goal.
But the match’s talking point was one of those “what-could-have-been” moments as Mbappé produced a pass that was so audacious and so creative, that it may well be remembered longer than the goal that won the game. Johan Cruyff’s “Cruyff turn” symbolised the Netherlands and Total Football at the 1974 World Cup, and Mbappé’s pass may come to symbolise a new era. An era that forgets about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and an era that focuses on the new World Cup king, Kylian Mbappé.
After beating Belgium, France was compared to a “mix between a boa constrictor and a fire blanket” by New York Times soccer columnist Rory Smith — a team that “always has enough, and much more, but always only does enough, and never more.” A true cross sports comparison is Floyd Mayweather in the latter half of his career. Mayweather was able to take the fight to brawlers like Arturo Gatti, but still coasted to decision wins over the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto, and Manny Pacquiao. If Argentina was France’s “Gatti” moment, then Belgium was its Pacquiao.
Floyd Mayweather in the second half of his career.
— Alan Dawson (@AlanDawsonSport) July 10, 2018
With the semifinal hurdle cleared, the only thing left for France to do was to tackle Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final on Sunday.
That elite threesome of Griezmann, Mbappé, and Pogba once again proved decisive. All three got on the scoresheet and all three caused near-constant carnage as Croatia’s World Cup hopes was left in complete tatters.
France scored four goals but the pick of the lot was this one from Mbappé:
With a 4-2 victory, France had done it. France was champions for the second time in its history, and for the second time in 20 years.
Reigning France president Emmanuel Macron couldn’t keep his hands, or lips, off of the country’s latest soccer hero Mbappé…
…while Mbappé’s teammates couldn’t keep their hands, or lips, off of the World Cup trophy.
Pogba even dabbed with the trophy — as you do.
Vive le France!
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