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.
“We were a united group,” forward Antoine Griezmann said. “It was a strength. We did something incredible. We made history.”
Croatia, with a population of about 4 million, was attempting to become the smallest nation to win the championship since Uruguay in 1950.
A few minutes after the final whistle, both the French team and the audience showed their respect and appreciation for what the Croatians had accomplished.
France’s Adil Rami danced around the field waving a French flag, but when he approached the largest sections of Croatian supporters he stopped what he was doing and applauded the fans. They reciprocated.
Huge ovations greeted the announcement that Croatian midfielder Luka Modric had won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. Modric and Coach Zlatko Dalic received lengthy hugs from their president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Dalic applauded the Croatian fans, who wore the team’s wonderful red-and-white checkerboard designs. He bowed to them, then wrapped his right arm around defender Domagoj Vida’s shoulders.
“On our bus there is a slogan: ‘Small Country With Big Dreams,’” he said. “That’s a good message to all. You have to believe it’s possible. Many things have to fall into place. You have to have a dream and ambitions, and then maybe it will come true — in football or life.”
His team had overcome deficits in each of the previous three matches, but a bit of bad luck, a controversial call and France’s power undermined the efforts.
The Croatians enjoyed a promising start, but France went ahead in the 18th minute. Griezmann launched a 30-yard free kick toward the edge of the six-yard box — a perilous spot to defend with so many surging bodies angling to make contact.
French heads rose, but the one to connect was Mario Mandzukic’s. The ball skipped off his scalp and floated past goalkeeper Danijel Subasic for an own goal.
Croatia answered 10 minutes later and, like France, started it with a free kick. Modric’s service was not a direct threat, but after three headers and Vida’s alert back pass, Ivan Perisic steered the ball from N’golo Kante and ripped a left-footed shot from 17 yards that nicked a defender en route to the net.
Another 10 minutes passed before France’s go-ahead goal, a penalty kick by Griezmann that was awarded with an assist from video replay.
On Griezmann’s corner kick, Blaise Matuidi won a header against Perisic at the near post. The ball then struck Perisic’s left hand. Argentine referee Nestor Pitana did not witness the infraction, but after being notified by the video assistant referee he consulted the sideline monitor and pointed to the spot.
Here are the best 18 photos from the World Cup final
It wasn’t intentional and Perisic had no time to react, but his arm had been extended. Griezmann converted.
“In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty,” Dalic said, “but it in no way diminishes France’s win.”
In the second half, Mbappe revved his engines, turning the corner with the agility and acceleration of a sports car. In the 59th minute, he infiltrated the right side of the box and crossed to Griezmann, who tapped back to Pogba. The first bid was blocked, but when the second returned to him the Manchester United midfielder smashed in a left-footed shot from 19 yards.
Subasic fell on his back, knowing the match was slipping away.
Mbappe got into the act six minutes later, the beneficiary of Lucas Hernandez’s ball work. He ripped a 25-yard shot into the low left corner for his fourth goal of the competition.
Mandzukic got one back in the 69th minute when he pressured sloppy goalkeeper Hugo Lloris on a routine back pass. Croatia had a faint lifeline, but time melted away on its upset hopes and left France atop the soccer world — the fourth consecutive champion from Europe.
Reflecting on the tournament, Deschamps said: “It was great atmosphere in the stadiums. It was a beautiful football party. It was a beautiful celebration of football and it was a pleasure to be here in Russia.”
Especially for the team in blue.
— Steven Goff
Yellow card for Croatia
As France’s Antoine Griezmann sprinted up the left sideline, Sime Vrsaljko delivered a rough tackle. The referees assessed him a yellow card.
Croatia gets a goal back
In the 69th minute, Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic made a nice hustle play by pressuring French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris on a ball played back to him by his defense. Mandzukic closed in and Lloris’s first touch went directly into Mandzukic’s right foot and deflected into the goal. Mandzukic scooped up the ball and carried it back to midfield. He knew his team had a long way to go.
Another one! Goooooal!
The 19-year-old French phenom Kylian Mbappe scored in the 65th minute on a right-footed shot that bounced to the left of Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic and in. He is the second teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pele did it as a 17-year-old for Brazil in 1958. The French seized a 4-1 lead and have seemingly sewn up the title.
In the 59th minute, a ball ping-ponging in the box found the left foot of French superstar midfielder Paul Pogba. It was initially blocked, but then he followed up with a left-footer that beat Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic left.
Protesters on the field
In the 52nd minute, four people sprinted out onto the pitch and interrupted play at about midfield. They were quickly removed from the field and play resumed within a minute. Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk rock group known for its protests, claimed responsibility for the fans, the Associated Press reported.
Half: France 2, Croatia 1
A wild first half ended with Croatia trailing, just as it had in the three games before this one. France’s Antoine Griezmann scored a penalty-kick goal in the 38th minute and also sent in the free kick just outside the box that deflected off Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic’s head and went in for an own goal in the 18th minute. Between those goals, Ivan Persic gave the Croatians a short-lived equalizer. If Croatia is to become the second-smallest country to win a World Cup, it will need to overcome a formidable French defense that is sure to fortify in the second half.
Yellow card for France
In the 41st minute, Lucas Hernández for a tackle near midfield on Ante Rebic.
In the 34th minute, France sent in a penalty corner that glanced off Blaise Matuidi’s head and then hit the left arm of Croatia’s Ivan Persic, who had minutes earlier equalized the game. After a short video review, referees awarded a penalty kick to France. Antoine Griezmann, who sent in the cross that resulted in France’s first goal, went low and left to beat Danijel Subasic in the 38th. And just like that, the French seized the lead and asked Croatia if they could keep up. It was Griezmann’s fourth goal of the tournament.
For the fourth straight match, Croatia has erased a one-goal deficit! Seconds after he was tripped, Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic finished off a set-piece with a left-footer that whistled through traffic in front of the net and beat French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to his left. Domagoj Vida assisted on the goal.
First yellow card issued
The first yellow card of the match came in the 27th minute. Croatia’s Ivan Perisic was dribbling about 15 yards from the box when France’s N’Golo Kanté tripped him from behind.
France scored the opening goal in the 18th minute after Antoine Griezmann went down for a free kick in a dangerous position, just outside the box. Griezmann then sent a left-footer into a large scrum near the left goal post and Croatia’s star striker, Mario Mandzukic, tried to head the ball away but accidentally sent the ball out of the goalkeeper’s reach and into the net for an own goal. Croatia has been in this position plenty of times before, but not against a defense like France’s, which most recently shut out Belgium, a world-class offense.
Croatia applies pressure
The team so accustomed to playing from behind looks like it doesn’t want to again in the World Cup final. Croatia, which made history as the first team to make the final despite trailing in three straight knockout games, broke out its classic checkered uniforms and pushed the vaunted French defense hard in the first dozen minutes. They’ve controlled possession about two-thirds of the time and, though neither team has managed a shot, Croatia has the only penalty corner. They also have four fouls to France’s one. It looks as though it’ll be a long, hard fight to the finish.
Scenes in Paris and Zagreb
Starting lineups announced
— Sam Fortier
This section was originally published Saturday in The Post’s World Cup newsletter.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris of France and Croatia’s Danijel Subasic have both been excellent. There was an injury worry around Subasic after the quarterfinal vs. Russia. But he showed no signs of it during 120 minutes against England. I give the slightest edge to France here because, on his day, Lloris really can be the best in the world.
Defenders: France’s La Liga pairing of Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona) and Raphael Varane (Real Madrid) has been excellent at both ends of the field. Both have their work cut out for them against their club teammates, Ivan Rakitic of Barcelona and Luka Modric of Real Madrid, who propel Croatia’s attack. This will be a fascinating matchup.
Croatia’s Dejan Lovren, who baffles Liverpool fans with his inconsistency, has been solid at the back throughout. And outside back Sime Vrsaljko , who plays against Umiti and Varane with his club Atletico Madrid, has been a standout; he set up Croatia’s tying goal against England.
I give the advantage here to France. Just more dependable.
Midfield: France has Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, and given that alone, it would be hard for me to pick any midfield with an advantage. The two have been extraordinary throughout the tournament — Pogba in particular, giving Manchester United fans a glimpse of what the team paid all that money for (Kante has nothing to prove to the Chelsea faithful.)
But Croatia’s Modric-Rakitic partnership has been even better, in my view, and the big European match experience they bring will make the on-field adjustment to a World Cup final much easier than for those without it. (Pogba has one Champions League final under his belt from his time at Juventus, Kante none.)
I give the advantage here to Croatia.
Forwards: Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann have been marvels for France and both, technically, have a shot at the Golden Boot (though would need hat tricks to catch Kane). Olivier Giroud, though, has proven again he really only scores with his head.
Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric have scored six goals between them. It is a balanced forward line, perhaps a bit short of the raw talent France has there, but crafty and clinical when given the chance (just ask England).
I lean, slightly, toward Croatia here. The team has more forwards likely to score.
The wild card: We saw it against Denmark, Russia and England. This Croatia team refuses to lose. Mandzukic, Rakitic and Modric have played in more than a half-dozen Champions League finals between them. There is a whiff of destiny about a side that wins three consecutive extra-time games — two in penalty kicks — on its way to the final. I think we are going to see a new World Cup champion.
The final prediction: 2-0, Croatia
— Scott Wilson
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