France 4-2 Croatia: “déprimé, ajusté, récompensé”

FranceDepressed, adjusted, rewarded. France has a new motto, at least in football. Twenty years later, Les Bleus celebrate another world title, and this time away from home. An achievement that lit up the work of Didier Deschamps, who joins the Brazilian Mario Zagallo and the German Franz Beckenbauer in the restricted lot of world champions both playing and training.

To understand this second French world title we have to go back to 2016. To July 10th, the day Portugal won the European Championship. No one wins before learning to lose, and France began to build this title two years ago.

But Didier Deschamps had the lucidity to realize that it was not necessary to start a revolution. He preferred evolution. With some adjustments, France gained maturity and cohesion, became more astute and pragmatic. That’s how they reached another final, and this time to lift the trophy.

The proof of this is that Deschamps’ team only made one shot in the first half, but was beating Croatia 2-1 at the break, thanks to a Mario Madzukic own goal and a penalty by Antoine Griezmann (six of the fourteen French goals in Russia came from set pieces).

Once again France did not need to attack much to attack well, which may help explain the absence of players in the top ten of the tournament’s attack “leader board”. The balance found by Didier Deschamps ended up valuing the backward elements, even though France were only once behind in a match: against Argentina, and for just nine minutes.

And if the first half of the final showed some defensive instability, after that the French team found defensive comfort, with Modric and Rakitic well guarded. With that stability, France trusted in Kylian Mbappé’s speed to solve the final. The Paris Saint-Germain player ended up scoring the last French goal, becoming the second U20 player to score in a World Cup final, after Pelé in 1958.

The scorer of the third goal, Paul Pogba, was the most punctuated player of the final, to close a tournament in which, in a somewhat discreet way, he completely dismissed the criticisms.

With a 4-1 lead secured by the 68th minute, the title seemed delivered. And perhaps it was this confidence that provoked the error from Hugo Lloris, who “offered” the second Croatian goal to Mandzukic.

But France didn’t shake, and for the remaining 20 minutes always gave the feeling of having the game controlled. As they had done against Belgium, the “bleus” pushed the opponent to the wings and then showed aerial superiority. N’Zonzi came from the bench to give important help, but Raphael Varane was insuperable once again. The Real Madrid defender ends up being the first French player in the global leader board, ahead of Griezmann and Pogba.

But none of these highlights should divert the focus from Deschamps’ greatest merit: to have created a team above its stars.