herald

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Mbappe proves the perfect ten as France deliver

YOUNG STAR: France’s Kylian Mbappe celebrates with the Wolrd Cup trophy
YOUNG STAR: France’s Kylian Mbappe celebrates with the Wolrd Cup trophy

For the four million Croatians who woke up this morning thinking about what might have been, there was one consolation.

At least they didn't lose out to France in a World Cup game based solely on a decision over a handball. Us Irish? We've been there, and almost a decade on, the pain and the anger have not cleared.

Losing a World Cup final on a 2-1 scoreline, with a questionable penalty decision, is the stuff that scars. Instead, Croatia will accept that the better team on the night, and the best team over the previous month, had won.

Second in the world is a huge improvement on their third-place finish in France in 1998, but Croatia will ask itself a big question today: was this The Chance? Will we ever again have a World Cup so open, with the major powers (the Spanish, Germans, Brazilians) sent home and others (Italy, Holland) not even in the race when the whistle was blown?

Retired

By the time the next World Cup comes around, the likes of Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic may have retired. Modric could even be in jail, if things go against him in a corruption case around his former club, Dinamo Zagreb, does not go his way. Hard to win a World Cup from a prison cell.

There was a feeling last night, as France were crowned world champions amid the rain of Moscow, that an injustice had been done.

There was the sight of various hangers-on touching and kissing the trophy before it was placed in the hands of its rightful owner, Hugo Lloris.

Yes, Emmanuel Macron, you played a vital role in this French success. And as for the Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Croatian president - your country lost, you don't get to grab the trophy, even for a second.

There was the referee taking his place on the podium, proud of his role though millions of Croats worldwide had made him public enemy No 1 for his decision to award that handball and penalty which Antoine Griezmann converted.

But it wasn't the handball and penalty which did Croatia in. France were too good for them. Deserved winners of this trophy.

We could be smug and say we told you so: in the Herald's magazine previewing the tournament, we picked out France as potential winners with two conditions: they needed to be meaner at the back and give Griezmann the service he needed.

Both happened, in a fashion. There were a lot of question marks hanging over France once it was all over.

Lloris deserving of a World Cup medal after the mistake which gave Croatia their second goal?

Giroud earning the praise of a nation despite doing very little over the previous month? Griezmann looking like a good forward but far from a great one?

Maybe that's being harsh. Paul Pogba came to the tournament with a weight on his shoulders, placed there by the insanity at his club, but he stepped up when needed.

And Mbappe. It was significant that a piece in L'Equipe, noting where the current French squad were the last time France worn a World Cup, had Mbappe in the womb, he is that young.

The 2018 World Cup had been built up as the battle of the No 10s: Messi, Neymar, Ozil, Salah, Eriksen, Hazard.

And yet the youngest of them all was standing tallest on the last day, the day it counted. France didn't have a side picked to suit their No 10. They had a 10 who suited their system, did what was needed and delivered for his nation.

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