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France win World Cup after beating Croatia in Moscow thriller

Moscow (AFP) – France celebrated their second World Cup win 20 years after their maiden triumph on Sunday, overcoming a passionate Croatia side 4-2 in one of the most gripping finals in recent history.

The breathless victory under stormy skies at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium means Didier Deschamps’ side — balancing youthful vitality and tournament nous — have buried the pain of their defeat in the Euro 2016 final on home soil. 

For Croatia, a country of just four million people, the loss spells bitter pain but their fans celebrated the best run in the nation’s history, which featured a stunning win against Argentina and a semi-final victory against England.

Deschamps, thrown into the air by his ecstatic players as they celebrated their win, hailed his side’s “wonderful” victory.

“It was so hard for me to lose the Euro two years ago and I think it has helped us,” Deschamps told French channel TF1.

France captain Hugo Lloris lifted the World Cup trophy as torrential rain fell in the Russian capital, mixing with a shower of golden glitter.

“We did something incredible, we made history and we are going to enjoy it,” said one of France’s goalscorers, Antoine Griezmann.

“We’re going to see our families and we’re going to party. Tomorrow in France will be the same, we’re going to party with the French people.”

US President Donald Trump quickly sent congratulations to France and also praised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for his hosting of the tournament.

France President Emmanuel Macron, who had punched the air during the match and stood next to Putin on the podium, tweeted simply “MERCI” to the team.

– Clinical France –

The celebrating French players burst into Deschamps’ press conference, spraying their coach with champagne in chaotic scenes.

In France, people erupted in joy, with fans streaming into the streets, honking car horns and flying the tricolore flag at the start of an enormous national celebration.

Croatia dominated the match for large periods, enjoying 61 percent of possession, but the French defence for the most part held firm and France took their chances with devastating efficiency.

Before kickoff, Croatia’s fans, massed behind Danijel Subasic’s goal, unveiled an enormous flag during their national anthem and their side roared out of the blocks. 

But it was the French who scored first, courtesy of an own goal in the 18th minute by Mario Mandzukic following a Griezmann free-kick. 

They were pegged back by a lovely Ivan Perisic strike 10 minutes later but then, in what was possibly the turning point of the match, referee Nestor Pitana awarded France a penalty for handball after consulting the video assistant referee (VAR).

As thunder rolled around the stadium, Griezmann lined up the penalty. Subasic did his best to put the French striker off but he held his nerve to lash the spot-kick into the net. 

Croatia were into their stride quickly in the second half, with the brilliant Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield as roars of “Croatia” echoed round the stadium. 

But Manchester United’s Paul Pogba extended France’s lead within a quarter of an hour, stroking the ball home — sparking scenes of joy behind the goal from French fans. 

Kylian Mbappe appeared to make sure just minutes later. But Croatia were given renewed hope when Mandzukic made the most of a mistake by France goalkeeper Lloris.

– France victorious –

France’s tournament started slowly before gathering tremendous momentum.

They beat Australia and Peru by the odd goal before a goalless stalemate with Denmark saw them top the group. 

But they moved up through the gears in the knockout stages, seeing off Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a seven-goal thriller before cruising to a 2-0 win against Uruguay and edging Belgium 1-0 in the semi-final. 

For Croatia, the final was perhaps one too far after they were taken to extra-time for three consecutive games including the semi-final against England. 

Deschamps, who captained France when they lifted the World Cup in 1998, has become just the third man to win the trophy as both a player and a manager after Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo.

Even before the final whistle in Moscow, crowds packed the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris in a repeat of the scenes of 20 years ago when more than a million people partied there.

Cheers rang out throughout the country for each of four goals, transforming the young team into national icons.

Disappointed but proud Croatian fans in Zagreb applauded their team as their “heroes”.

When it was over, applause from tens of thousands of Croatian fans rippled through the capital’s main Jelacic square as many lit flares and set off firecrackers.

Croatia’s Luka Modric won the best player of the World Cup award, with Mbappe picking up the prize for best young player.

Belgium stopper Thibaut Courtois was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament while England’s Kane won the Golden Boot as top-scorer.

Trump tweeted: “Congratulations to France, who played extraordinary soccer, on winning the 2018 World Cup.

“Additionally, congratulations to President Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup Tournament — one of the best ever!”

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