Didier Deschamps might have been a lucky coach for France at the 2018 World Cup. But he was also the smartest. He’d have had Napoleon’s job off him.
France Beat Croatia 4-2 To Win 2018 World Cup Final
By Dave Bowler
Napoleon was a big fan of generals who were lucky rather than brilliant. He would have loved Didier Deschamps, the first French general to take Moscow a couple of hundred years after Napoleon himself failed. Then again, Deschamps didn’t have to contend with the snow and a country on fire, so he did have it a bit easier.
France, let’s be clear, are worthy 2018 World Cup winners. They were the most complete team in the tournament from back to front, quality in every department, from Lloris to Mbappe. But as we’ve noted in this column before, the best team doesn’t always win it. But if you can add a hefty pinch of luck to a bucket of ability, that is the winning formula.
That they went in at the interval 2-1 up was really where the final was won, for Croatia were comfortably the better side in that first 45 minutes and only two huge slices of luck put them in front, laying bare the idiocy and inconsistency that is VAR. First, Griezmann bought a free-kick that never was, then delivered the dead ball that skidded off Mandzukic’s head and in. That decision was not subject to VAR review when, had they scored in open play and a foul committed in the build up, it would have been. Logical? Hardly.
Croatia yet again dragged themselves off the floor and Perisic bludgeoned in a glorious equaliser and they were on top, looking the more likely team to score. And then, having not awarded a penalty, the referee was advised to consult the video to check for a handball by Perisic at a corner. Handball has to be deliberate. VAR is to be used only to correct a clear and obvious error. Neither was the case here. It should never have been a penalty but it was given and Griezmann showed icy nerve to slot away.
Pogba Takes Charge
Had that decision not been given, had the sides gone in at 1-1, who knows where the game would have gone. Croatia came out and went for the throats again, but Deschamps proved he’s smart as well as lucky, replacing Kante with Nzonzi who brought fresh legs and greater control to the game.
Then it was Pogba who took charge, reinforcing that he has stepped up to become the absolute world class footballer he has threatened to be. He played the most sumptuous 60 yard pass to Mbappe to turn defence into attack, then galloped forward to collect the ball back in the edge of the box and drift a gorgeous curling shot into the corner and swing the game irreversibly France’s way.
Mbappe fulfilled what looked set to be his destiny since the Argentina win, smacking in a 20 harder almost immediately thereafter to seal the win and become the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele in 1958. It was as well he did as Lloris had a complete aberration to clear the ball against Mandzukic to give Croatia brief hope, but the French, as they have done all tournament long, managed the situation with exemplary discipline and carried off the trophy.
It’s impossible not to feel desperately sorry for Croatia, a side who just keep coming back and coming back in the face of adversity, a side that gave everything to the competition, a side of great character and great quality. But VAR was one blow too many to recover from and that is desperately sad for the game, never mind Croatia.
We have to finish on France of course. Deserved winners of the competition, they didn’t impose themselves on game after game the way that say Brazil 1970, Holland 1974, Spain 2010 did, but they were hugely adaptable, picking their way through games, finding ways to win them whatever the opponent, be it by going for the throat against Argentina or suffocating the life out of Belgium. Didier Deschamps might have been a lucky coach. But he was also the smartest. He’d have had Napoleon’s job off him.