France celebrated their second World Cup title by beating a passionate Croatia team. In a fantastic and memorable final, France also exorcised their Euro 2016 demons. DW's Pascal Jochem reports from Moscow.
It's the famous seconds after the final whistle. When a final finishes and a tournament comes to an end. When everything culminates in a moment and everyone involved doesn't know what to do with their emotions.
Olivier Giroud sprinted and slid across the grass. Bayern Munich's Corentin Tolisso, brought on 17 minutes before the end, stood rooted to the spot, shaking his head in disbelief. After initial moments of joy, Kylian Mbappe, the shooting star of the World Cup, comforted Croatia's goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic.
Moments later, both teams received ovations. The French were exuberant, while the defeated Croatians were lifted by their raucous fans behind one of the goals. The players in red and white looked shattered, but they had played their part in a memorable final. After all, the game that finished 4-2 was the highest scoring final in more than 50 years.
Was there anything this final didn't have? An own goal that gave the favorites the lead; A wonder goal to equalize; A dodgy penalty awarded after the use of VAR; two further French goals to decide the game; and then a goalkeeping error that gave Croatia some late hope. It was one of the most entertaining World Cup final games ever.
For a moment, it looked like the controversial penalty decision made by referee Nestor Pitana and assisted by the VAR would cast a shadow over the game.
"In a final like this, you don't give controversial penalties like that," said Croatia's head coach Zlatko Dalic afterwards. However, Dalic did add: "This decision definitely doesn't take away from France's win."
France — and Croatia wouldn't say otherwise — were the smarter and more direct team on the day. It was the second final in a row for Les Bleus after France lost the 2016 Euros final two years ago.
"The Euro final was different. This time we were more relaxed," France's head coach Didier Deschamps said afterwards.
One look at that the team and that much was clear. Even in the tough moments the French didn't lose control, not even after Ivan Perisic's equalizer sent the Croatian side of the stadium into pandemonium.
Better, faster, stronger
France played the final in the same way they had played the rest of the tournament. Less rampant, but well organized and with a clarity of plan. Deschamps was determined not to lose another final. This time, the end was to take precedence over the means.
"It was so painful two years ago," admitted Deschamps. "But perhaps we wouldn't have become world champions had we won the Euros."
A defeat as part of a learning process. And a now a triumph to heal old wounds. And maybe it means even more.
"We still can't really get our heads around it," said Man of the Match Antoine Griezmann.
Two years ago, he won the Golden Boot but, without the title itself, even he was still considered a work in progress.
"I told the lads to enjoy it," added Deschamps before disappearing in a celebratory shower of water and beer at the press conference. "Now they're world champions for life."
Deschamps is the one who has got the best out of his players' abilities and formed them into a team. Star status alone isn't enough. The greatest triumphs are only achieved as a unit, and at this World Cup, the French have shown Germany, Portugal, Argentina and the other supposed favorites how it's done.
Moments before the final whistle, Griezmann could be seen sliding into tackles in his own half. Paul Pogba ran and ran as if he had a third lung. Mbappe was quieter than he has been but still scored his fourth goal of the campaign and was later crowned young player of the tournament.
"Not everything was perfect but we had the togetherness and the mental strength to see it through," said Deschamps, hitting the nail on the head.
And now it's time for the biggest party of all — two years later than planned, as Griezmann quipped at the press conference. "With our families first, and then with all of France on Monday."
Then he gave journalists a little taste of what could be expected, but it was only a teaser — a preview of what France can expect when the team is welcomed back to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.