The PSG youngster has undoubtedly been the find of the tournament for the French.
When Kylian Mbappe smashed in France‘s fourth goal in the final against Croatia, it was the culmination of what has truly been a remarkable journey for the 19-year-old. Croatia had no answer to this talent, who PSG broke the bank for and is seemingly on Real Madrid‘s hitlist to replace Cristiano Ronaldo. Like every match, let alone the final of a World Cup, there were a few aspects that did stand out.
Croatia deserve to be lauded for their positivity despite all odds
When Ivan Perisic equalised for the Croatians in the first half, after Mario Mandzukic‘s unfortunate own-goal, every football fan who was backing Croatia for the title would have felt justice was done. This was a team that refuses to lie down.
Zlatko Dalic had seen the signs in the semi-final when England had deputised Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard to restrict the supply to Croatian talisman Luka Modric. In this game, he played his 3-4-3 formation right from kick-off and this saw the Vatreni taking the game to France.
Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic repeatedly pegged Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez back to the edge of their own penalty area and it did not help that Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic were interested in joining in attack each time. France’s narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation needed width from the full-backs and they struggled to keep pace with the ferocity of the Croatian attack, till Mandzukic’s own-goal.
Watch: France 4-2 Croatia highlights
While the second French goal came under polarising circumstances, with VAR being used to award the penalty against Perisic. At 2-1 heading into halftime, the game was definitely within Croatia’s reach. 4-1 down with 35 minutes to go, it felt like they would wilt. However, it was exactly the opposite, as Dalic’s team decided that if they were to lose, they would give it everything they had before the final whistle blew.
While Croatia’s second was thanks primarily to a dreadful Hugo Lloris error, it spoke volumes of how this battle-hardened team is not ready to wave the white flag even in the direst of circumstances.
Mbappe took advantage of Croatian adventure in the second half
There was one moment in the first half that set off minor alarm bells among the Croatian defenders. Mbappe received the ball in his traditional right-wing position and switched on his afterburners to speed away from Ivan Strinic as if he was barely there. While Croatia did an admirable job in keeping Mbappe quiet in the first 45, the Real Madrid target really came into his own in the second period.
This was primarily due to the fact that Croatia needed to attack more given that France had the lead and were masters in shutting down the game. Dalic had asked Strinic and Vrsaljko to push forward even more, leaving Marcelo Brozovic, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida to deal with the potent France front three of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Mbappe. The advanced positions of the Croatian full-backs finally led to Mbappe having the space he needed to go full tilt.
It was Mbappe’s immaculate approach play with Griezmann that set up Paul Pogba to give France breathing room, just when Croatia had threatened Lloris’ goal through the marauding Ante Rebic.
Mbappe’s goal to seal the game was thoroughly deserved and it was a moment where the boy who had come through the Monaco academy, took the world by storm and became a man. Given that he is just 19, France can safely say that they may have the man who will most certainly be their talisman for the next three World Cups at the very least.
France’s golden generation has arrived and Croatia’s new crop has an example to follow
During Euro 2016, France had easily one of the most talented teams at the tournament. The emergence of Paul Pogba, the tirelessness of N’Golo Kante, the guile of Griezmann and the solidity of Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane heralded a new dawn for French football.
Despite their loss to Portugal in the final at home, the experience was a huge learning curve for the young squad. Over the span of the following two years, French football has been blessed with an outrageous crop of young players, the kind that comes once in a generation.
The team which took the pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium had six players under the age of 25, with the oldest player being captain Lloris at 33. It speaks of a future where each of these youngsters, who have now a World Cup medal, will play their best football in the next five years, something that the last French “Golden Generation” did post their win in 1998.
The Truth Behind Croatia’s Incredible World Cup Run
Croatia too have reason to feel secure despite the crushing loss. The team is in extremely capable hands under Dalic and this achievement will be an inspiration for every Croatian kid who takes up football. While this may certainly be Luka Modric’s last World Cup given that he is 33, the Vatreni have in Ivan Rakitic the ideal successor to the giant shoes of Modric. The Barcelona man easily has another World Cup left in him and is expected to have the same influence ON that future Croatian squad as Modric has now.
The emergence of Vrsaljko, Rebic and Brozovic is a sign that Croatian football is indeed secure. The last Croatian “Golden Generation” made it to the semi-finals in 1998 and the current crop have made it to a final. Who knows, we may just see the next generation of Croatian footballers go one step further and bring home their maiden World Cup.