Golden confetti mixed with a hard rain Sunday night, drenching the French national soccer team in unfettered joy and a refreshing shower after a 4-2 victory over Croatia in the World Cup final.
The storm also hid tears streaming from the eyes of the fallen Croatians, whose heroic run through soccer’s ultimate testing ground offered hope to every small country with big dreams.
But the sudden downpour — which caught Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French and Croatian counterparts by surprise on the medal stand — failed to wash away the memories of an extraordinary tournament, one that will enter the archives as perhaps the best in the World Cup’s 88-year history.
Fittingly, the final delivered many of the same twists and turns, riveting moments, individual superlatives and wonderful soccer that had blessed the competition over four upset-filled weeks.
And ultimately it provided a worthy champion. Twenty summers since winning its first title on home soil, a team deploying sublime young talent and hardened experience scored three goals in a 27-minute span bridging halftime to turn a taut affair into a runaway.
Les Bleus had dodged the pitfalls that had ruined the other contenders. While Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina watched from home — along with another billion or so citizens of the planet — France remained standing.
“I have never seen or lived through such a World Cup,” said Didier Deschamps, who joined Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer as the only men to win the title as a player and coach.
“There was a leveling toward the top. The small teams arrived really well prepared. I don’t know if it was a beautiful World Cup. There were goals, good matches and crazy scenarios. But this World Cup was very, very tough. I don’t know if we did it better.”
They did Sunday.
An own goal, a penalty kick and superb strikes by Paul Pogba and 19-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappe carried the day before a sellout crowd of 78,011 at Luzhniki Stadium.
Mbappe, who was named the best young player of the tournament, became the first teenager to score in the final since a Brazilian named Pele in 1958.
He provided the most excitement in a match that totaled as many goals as the previous four finals combined and the most in regulation time since Brazil’s 5-2 triumph over Sweden 60 years ago.
SOURCE: Steven Goff, Sam Fortier and Scott Wilson
The Washington Post