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Sports

France crushes Croatia in gripping World Cup 2018 final

media France coach Didier Deschamps is thrown into the air by his players as they celebrate after winning the World Cup. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

France won the World Cup for the second time by ending battling Croatia’s dream of a first title with a 4-2 victory on Sunday in one of the most entertaining and action-packed finals for decades.

France led 2-1 at halftime after a Mario Mandzukic own goal and an Antoine Griezmann VAR penalty, with Ivan Perisic briefly bringing first-time finalists Croatia level.

Quickfire strikes by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe midway through the second half put France on course for the title but Mandzukic was gifted a goal by French keeper Hugo Lloris to set up a nervous last 20 minutes.

France, however, withstood a spirited Croatia assault to lift the trophy for the second time, following their success on home soil 20 years ago, and ensure there was no repeat of two years ago when they were beaten in the European Championship final by Portugal in Paris.

The victory means that Didier Deschamps, captain of the 1998 side, becomes the third man to win the World Cup as player and coach after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.

It was the highest-scoring final since England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in 1966 and the highest in normal time since Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 60 years ago.

The landmarks came thick and fast in the first half too.

Croatia had started full of energy but fell behind when Mandzukic, who scored the extra-time winner against England in the semi-final, became the first man to score an own goal in a World Cup final when a Griezmann free kick skidded in off his head in the 18th minute. It was the 12th own goal of the tournament.

That meant it was the fourth successive knockout game that Croatia had conceded first but Perisic, who got the equalizer against England, was on hand again to level the scores 10 minutes later, smashing in a low shot after Sime Vrsaljko had headed Luka Modric’s free kick across the box.

But it was then Perisic’s turn go from hero to zero when he flapped an arm at a corner and, after a VAR review, Argentine referee Nestor Pitana awarded the 28th penalty of the tournament, another record, which Griezmann stroked home in the 38th minute for his fourth goal of Russia 2018.

That made it the highest-scoring first half since 1974, when West Germany led the Netherlands 2-1 - also the final score then.

It was harsh on Croatia, who had made most of the running, and they were on top again after the break, continually winning their one-on-one duels in the air and in every tackle and forging forward in the French box with plenty of variety.

But France’s defense, so impressive all tournament, held and they went 3-1 up on the hour as Mbappe and Griezmann combined to set up Pogba on the edge of the box. His right-footed shot was blocked but he coolly curved the rebound in with his left.

After three successive extra-time knockout games the chances of another Croatian comeback seemed slight but they looked dead and buried six minutes later. Lucas Hernandez tore down the left to set up Mbappe who drilled a low shot beyond keeper Danijel Subasic for the 19-year-old’s fourth goal of the tournament.

An awful blunder by Lloris revived Croatia, as the French keeper tried to dribble around Mandzukic only for the striker to tap the ball straight into an unguarded net.

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