KATHMANDU, July 18: A lot of dramas, an action-packed final, the rise of the underdogs and just the second-time winner of the most coveted trophy in football concluded Russia’s 2017 FIFA World Cup. France won the all European final with an astounding 4-2 victory over Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.
Many records were broken in the tournament from winner France and Denmark playing the only goalless draw to runner-up Croatia’s Danijel Subasic saving the most penalties (4), equaling Argentina’s Sergio Goycochea’s record from 1990 and Germany’s Harald Schumacher from 1982 to 1986.
Likewise, the tournament also saw most own goals (12) including one in the final by Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic which also became the first own goal in the final. Croatia set another record in this finals becoming the first team to win three consecutive games in extra time, with two of them going to the penalty shootouts.
A total of 169 goals were scored in 64 matches with Belgium scoring the highest 16 goals and France just two behind it.
France won its second World Cup title of its history after 20 years. The World Cup winning team returned home on Monday, to a heroes' welcome, parading down the Champs-Elysees as hundreds of thousands of cheering fans gave a raucous welcome to the country's newest idols.
Key to success
The key to success for France was its balanced midfield and compact defense with midfield duo N’Golo Kante guarding the backline and Paul Pogba orchestrating in the middle of the park and setting up long balls for teen sensation Kylian Mbappe.
Antoine Griezmann, who was played in an attacking midfield role and sometimes playing his part as a false nine, performed really well and was involved in four goals and two assists, the most a player has been directly involved in goals. He played behind Olivier Giroud, who could not register a single shot on target, but was an instrumental part of the linkups and freeing up Mbappe on the wings. Giroud unsettled the defense with his technique to hold the ball, while Mbappe utilized his pace to dismantle the opposition defense.
France coach Didier Deschamps, who also won the title as a captain, fielded Blaise Matuidi in the left midfield role as he used to drop back to the midfield to assists Kante and Pogba.
The defense was pretty solid excluding in the match against Croatia and France’s 4-3 Round of 16 victory over Argentina. Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti and Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane handled the defensive duties and let six goals in with five of them coming against Argentina and Croatia.
Hugo Lloris was having a fantastic tournament until the final with three cleansheets in six games he played, the same number of cleansheets Belgium’s Golden Gloves winner Thibaut Courtois kept letting in six goals.
One of the major factors behind the success of France was its versatile center backs Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard, who were deployed as the left and the right backs respectively. Three defenders scored a goal each for France in three consecutive knockout games with Pavard scoring against Argentina, Varane against Uruguay and Umtiti against Belgium.
A new dynasty
Brazil has the ever strong record of winning five World Cups, Germany just one behind with four, while Spain won the Euro 2008, 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. The records are well set and are very difficult to better by any team, but with France’s two major tournament finals suggesting that the team is ready to take on new challenges and reign with its young squad.
France was the best team of Euro 2016, but had to suffer a 1-0 loss at the hands of Portugal. With the latest World Cup win, many are assuming that this French squad can go all the way to achieve great heights.
France played the first World Cup final under Deschamps, and suggesting that the golden generation of the team can go on to match Spain’s record of winning the Euro after lifting the World Cup and also its own when it won the 1998 World Cup and also the Euro 2000.
Not only that, France has a new hero in Mbappe who scored a total of four goals in this finals, including two against Argentina and will play a pivotal role in the upcoming major tournaments. France has a relatively depth in the squad with Ousmane Dembele and Nabil Fekir equally good to play in the advanced role. A good attacking flair with Griezmann will be crucial for success, and two younger center backs in Varane and Umtiti will be much to look out for.
Blessed with two talented midfielder in Pogba and Kante, France can be very organized in the middle of the park with other midfielders Steven Nzonzi, Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso to back them.
France missed clinical forward as Giroud failed to showcase his goalscoring prowess, but was useful in play building. A tactical player in the eyes of Deschamps, he was selected over Alexander Lacazette, who is more sharp in front of goal, and Karim Benzema, who can do the creative attacking roles.
The new generation of the team can match the success of the Henrys and the Zidanes, and will have a point to prove in the next Euro and potentially in the 2022 World Cup as its main man Mbappe, who became the youngest player after Brazil great Pele to score in a World Cup final, just turning 23 in Qatar.
France will play against Germany and the Netherlands in the upcoming UEFA Nations League A Group One, and will be hoping to repeat the same. The matches will be played between September 7 to 10 and October 17 and November 17.
The fall of the powerhouses
If Italy and the Netherlands failing to qualify for the finals was shocking, then Germany getting crashed out from the group stages was really hard to believe.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina could not get past the Round of 16, while the other South American duo Uruguay and Brazil faltered in the quarterfinals. Likewise, crisis-bound Spain also lost to the host Russia in the Round of 16 on penalties, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal crashed out of the same round against Uruguay.
There were just two past winners in the semifinals of the tournament, with underdogs Croatia and highly rated Belgium making the finals even more exciting.
The past days where powerhouses used to dominate the tournament has slowly gathered dust, and the chance for teams like France, or even Croatia has highly uplifted.
Little can be said this soon, but with the way underdogs like Croatia, Russia, Sweden, and even Japan played, the world football looks like changing shape.
The first game of the World Cup was just about enough to prove the statement right with the host Russia hitting five past Saudi Arabia, while Portugal and Spain sharing the spoils of an entertaining 3-3 draw which saw Ronaldo become the oldest player to score a hattrick in a World Cup finals at the age of 33 years and 130 days.
More way to follow as the smallest country to play in the World Cup with a population of 337,669, Iceland stopped Argentina in Group D opener which also saw keeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson saving Messi’s penalty.
Just a day after that, fragile Germany lost to Mexico, while Switzerland held Brazil to a 1-1 draw.
Much criticized for poor performances, and having a record of not winning a single match, Russia went on to win two successive group games with the second win coming against Egypt. Argentina then lost 3-0 to ruthless Croatia, while Nigeria beat Iceland to keep the Group D alive as the teams went to the final round of the group stages to decide their fate.
It was another disappointing games for big guns as Spain and Portugal failed to rise to the occasion as both the teams were held to draws against Morocco and Iran, which saw them going to the knockout rounds by being just a point above Iran.
Then, Argentina defeated Nigeria and Croatia beat Iceland to qualify for the knockouts. Argentina scored only three and conceded five in the group stages and still made it to the knockouts, while Croatia won all its three group stage matches.
The most shocking and the most thrilling encounters of the group stages was when Germany lost 2-0 to South Korea and was sent home finishing fourth with just two goals scored in three games.
France defeated Argentina with a superb showcase of midfield transition and attacking brilliance as Mbappe scored two in the game leaving Messi and co frustrated, while Portugal lost 2-1 to Uruguay which meant both Messi and Ronaldo went home on the same day.
Spain then lost 4-3 on penalties to Russia, while Croatia registered a thrilling 3-2 penalty shootout victory after going down inside the first minute, replying in the fourth, Luka Modric’s 116-minute penalty saved by Denmark’s goalie Kasper Schmeichel and Subasic stopping three penalties in the shootout.
It was easy for Brazil to get past for Mexico, but for its eventual semifinal opponent Belgium, Japan was a hard nut to crack. Japan scored in the 48th and the 52ndminute to take a 2-0 lead, but a game which was destined to leave its mark saw Belgium replying two goals in the space of five minutes. Nacer Chadli scored a 94th minute winner to completely overturn the tie and the game is still remembered as the best game of this World Cup.
The other Round of 16 match saw center back Yerry Mina score his third goal of the tournament against England in the 93rd minute, despite losing the game on penalties.
The semifinal saw France outclassing Uruguay winning 2-0 with the most claiming it was the best performance from France as the midfield of Pogba and Kante dominated the Uruguayan attack. Goals from Varane and Griezmann was enough to send France to its first semifinal after 2006. Belgium’s rejuvenated tactical approach playing Kevin De Bryune in a false nine role helped as it defeated Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Croatia then won another penalty shootout, this time at the expense of Russia, while England made it look easy when it defeated Sweden 2-0 in extra time.
It was a cracking semifinal clash of France and Belgium as Umtiti’s second half header was enough to get a win and the game being termed as France’s ultimate test. Croatia then ended England’s superb run with a 2-1 extra time win to qualify to its first World Cup final.
Belgium enjoyed its best World Cup finish by securing the third place beating England 2-0 with Eden Hazard getting his share of applaud for his brilliant performances throughout the tournament.
Then came the ultimate day, then came the 2018 World Cup final. France went ahead inside the first 20 minutes when a Griezmann freekick was headed in by Mandzukic into his own net, but a delightful footwork and sumptuous finish from Ivan Perisic 10 minutes after that leveled the game.
Griezmann scored from the spot after VAR spotted that Perisic was the culprit when he handled the ball with his hand in the box, and goals from Pogba and Griezmann made the score 4-1 inside 65 minutes. Mandzukic pulled one back after a dreadful mistake from Lloris in the 69th minute, but after that it was just controlling the possession and dictating the tempo of the game until the final whistle.
France won the second title of its history with Mbappe winning the best young player of the tournament.
Modric won the best player of the tournament for his consistent performance until the final, while England’s Harry Kane won the Golden Boot for his six goals. Courtois won the Golden Gloves.
Playing XI of the tournament
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Defender: Kieran Trippier (England), Raphael Varane (France), Domagoj Vida (Croatia), Lucas Hernandez (France)
Midfielders: Paul Pogba (France), Ngolo Kante (France), Luka Modric (Croatia)
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe (France), Antoine Griezmann (France), Eden Hazard (Belgium)