"Today, I say it with more conviction: this was the best World Cup ever."
That was FIFA president Gianni Infantino in Moscow, 48 hours before France would play out an absolutely enthralling triumph over Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium. Not many would disagree with him. Didier Deschamps certainly won't.
Russia 2018, the tournament of surprises, had one more up its sleeve for the showpiece clash in the capital. A France team so often accused of being too cautious, too afraid to unleash their attacking potential, smashed Croatia with a second-half attacking salvo. The same France team so widely praised for an imperious defence handed Croatia two goals, two lifelines, on a plate.
It was a welcome shock. It was also vindication for Deschamps, who nailed his tactics once again, save for a couple of rash moments. Twenty years on from lifting the trophy as a player, France's coach got his hands back around the glistening golden globe, a triumph to smack his critics into the dirt once and for all.
3 - Didier Deschamps has become the third person to win the World Cup as a player and as manager after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer. Champion.#WorldCupFinal #WorldCup #FRA #CRO pic.twitter.com/H3zrhkx9rO— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 15, 2018
The Euro 2016 final defeat on home soil has been an open wound in this team. It wasn't only the loss to unfancied Portugal, but the manner of it - substitute Eder scoring in extra time to win it for Fernando Santos and his parked bus - that has stung for two years.
Paul Pogba amazingly admitted they were complacent after beating Germany in the last four. Hugo Lloris promised it wouldn't happen again this time. Deschamps made sure of it.
France have adopted a certain brand of 'tournament football' that has upset a lot of viewers in Russia. Blessed with attacking talent as they are, it was felt they should have been blowing teams away, rather than systematically wearing them down with well-placed gusts. Eden Hazard even claimed he would "rather lose with this Belgium than win with this France" after Samuel Umtiti's header settled their semi-final.
But Deschamps persisted, Portugal still, probably, on his mind. He would not yield to the arrogant demand to open up his side and risk another final defeat - not until they had control.
That came through Antoine Griezmann, as it always seems to do. The man of the match here, as he was in the Europa League final for Atletico Madrid, is truly the master of the big occasion. There might be a Ballon d'Or to come.
France weathered the storm, both Croatia's early pressing and the literal thunder and lightning overhead, and snatched an 18th-minute opener when Mario Mandzukic headed Griezmann's devilish free-kick into his own net.
Ivan Perisic levelled but handed Griezmann a chance to restore the lead, his blocking of the ball with his fingers leading to a VAR-assisted penalty call. Griezmann waited, stared down Danijel Subasic and the thousands of Croatia fans behind the goal, and scored one of the coolest penalties you'll ever see.
3 - Antoine Griezmann is only the 3rd player to score in a European clubs final & in a World Cup final in a single season after Gerd Müller (Germany & Bayern Munich) in 1974 & Jorge Valdano (Argentina & Real Madrid) in 1986. Historic. #FRACRO #WorldCupFinal pic.twitter.com/fRero5TdKM— OptaJean (@OptaJean) July 15, 2018
Then, and only then, did Deschamps relent. France were liberated on the break. A minute before the hour mark, Griezmann killed a loose ball and laid it back to Paul Pogba, who killed the game. The irrepressible Kylian Mbappe added a fine fourth, staking his claim for the Best Young Player prize and reminding everyone why Deschamps chose him over Anthony Martial and others in this squad.
There was still time for a Lloris error to make the final minutes uneasy, but France did not panic. Two years ago, they let the occasion, the frustrations, get the better of them, but that was simply impossible now.
Deschamps has been steadfast in turbulent waters for two years. He learned the hard way what it takes to coach a team to international success and came back to deliver. When the dust settles after this magnificent World Cup, perhaps the best there has ever been, credit for the France coach should not lie forgotten.
|Rams sign RB C.J. Anderson|
|Good luck with the Red Devils - Norway PM´s message for Solskjaer|
|Pogba was ´dancing on the grave´ of Mourinho - Neville|
|Solskjaer set to replace Mourinho after Man United gaffe|
|City signing Steffen up to Guardiola´s goalkeeper demands, says Berhalter|
|Mourinho is so strong - Guardiola backing for fallen rival|
|Mourinho? Ausilio dismisses Inter return after United sacking|
|Whyte needs to raise his game to beat Chisora again - Haye|
|Brussino leads late Tenerife rally as Venezia down Holon|
|Orleans 1 Paris Saint-Germain 2: Super sub Diaby sends holders through|
|Leicester City 1 Manchester City 1 (1-3 on penalties): Muric stands tall in poor shoot-out|
|Middlesbrough 0 Burton Albion 1: League One side reach semi-finals|
|Bologna 0 AC Milan 0: Bakayoko sent off as Inzaghi claims point against former side|
|Fortuna Dusseldorf 2 Borussia Dortmund 1: Bundesliga leaders suffer shock first loss|
|Rivera yet to make a call on sitting Panthers QB Newton|
|Pulisic would thrive in Premier League, but Berhalter expects Dortmund stay|
|Raptors coach Nurse fined by NBA for criticising referees|
|Solari ´loves´ struggling Real Madrid star Isco|
|Mourinho sacked: Pogba, Lukaku, Fred and his other Man United signings rated|
|Mourinho sacked: What does it mean for Manchester United players?|
|Ibrahimovic provides short-term pain, long-term gain for US - Berhalter|
|River Plate 2 Al Ain 2 (aet, 4-5 on penalties): Perez misses decisive spot kick|
|De Bruyne and Aguero back for City, surprise debut for Garcia|
|Uncapped Varun ´panicked a little´ after huge IPL deal|
|Replays scrapped for FA Cup fifth round|
|Pochettino readies big guns for Gunners|
|Ex-Wasps star Wade struggling with NFL transition|
|BCCI rejects ´baseless´ claims over Kohli-Paine ´banter´|
|Ibrahimovic re-signs with LA Galaxy for 2019|
|Mourinho sacked: Solari not worried for Real Madrid job|
|Mourinho sacked: 895 days and more than £700,000 in five-star luxury|
|ES Tunis 1 Guadalajara 1 (6-5 on penalties): Dhaouadi holds nerve to settle ill-tempered affair|
|Murphy lands permanent Tigers role|
|Mourinho sacked: Real Madrid´s Marcelo lauds ´great coach´ after United exit|
|Unadkat, Varun the top buys at IPL auction|
|Emery prepared to give youth a chance in north London derby|
|Tottenham extend Vertonghen contract until 2020|
|Panthers safety Reid receives seventh random drug test of 2018|
|Kovac relishing Klopp challenge in Champions League|
|Bancroft to return, teenager Lamichhane to fly the flag for Nepal in Big Bash|
|Liverpool still have plenty of work to do - Klopp|
|Messi ´never imagined´ his success after winning record fifth Golden Shoe|
|WATCH: Timberwolves´ Gibson tries to block shot with his trainer|
|Mourinho sacked: Klopp praises departed Manchester United boss|
|Mourinho sacked: Jose the best Manchester United manager since Ferguson - Gerrard|
|Mourinho sacked: Ferdinand calls for ´fresh ideas´ at Man United|
|Mourinho sacked: The mystique has gone as United spell ends in divorce|
|´He´s an interest not only for us but for many´ - Zola praises rumoured Chelsea target Wilson|
|Mourinho sacked: Pochettino focused on Spurs amid Manchester United rumours|
|Mendis eyes double-century for departing Samaraweera|
|Mourinho sacked: Zola expects Jose to be in another job ´soon´|
|Mourinho sacked: Five reasons it went wrong at Manchester United|
|Mourinho sacked: Jose´s Manchester United record in Opta stats|
|Mourinho sacked: Pogba, Ronaldo and Jose´s biggest bust-ups|
|Mourinho sacked: Blanc, Solskjaer - the men who could steady the United ship short-term|
|Mourinho sacked: The football world reacts|
|Mourinho sacked: What former United stars said after Liverpool loss|
|Mourinho sacked: Where next for the axed Manchester United boss?|
|UEFA to investigate alleged racist incidents at Vidi-Chelsea|
|Australia unchanged for rest of India series|
|Mourinho sacked: Pogba´s tweet a dig at departing Man United boss?|
|Newton left frustrated by shoulder injury as Panthers lose again|
|Mourinho sacked: Pochettino & Zidane lead potential Man Utd replacements|
|Mourinho sacked: Neville urges Man United to go for Pochettino|
|Boylen pleased to see Bulls react to red rag in Thunder fracas|
|Icardi and Inter ´very far´ apart in contract negotiations|
|Mourinho leaves Manchester United|
|Curry humbled by latest milestone|
|Robertson: ´Unbelievable´ Alisson will bounce back from error|
|Curry scores 15,000th regular-season point in Warriors win|