The World Cup Is Over, Bravo Les Bleus!

The 2018 World Cup is over, with a fitting final for this great tournament: France 4 x 2 Croatia had more goals in regulation time than any final since 1958 (Brazil 5 x 2 Sweden). Mbappé scored Les Bleus’ fourth goal, the French team’s young sensation being also the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pelé sixty years ago.

This World Cup saw lots of goals (an average of 2.64 scored per match for a total of 169, only two less than the records of the 1998 and 2014 Cups), three of the top four favorites eliminated in successive rounds – Germany in the group phase, Spain in the round of 16 and Brazil in the quarterfinals – and deep runs in the tournament by three of the “outsiders,” with Belgium, Croatia and England crowding the semifinals. Russia, the host, provided the surprise, reaching the quarterfinals to only lose on penalties. The hosts were enthusiastic and gracious, the players dazzled with their skills, earning very few yellow and red cards in the process. The video replays (VAR) made a successful debut in Cup history, leading referees to award penalty kicks they had overlooked, reverse some that did not exist, and even confirm a goal initially annulled for an offside that had not taken place.

No new champion was crowned, France having won on home soil in 1998, and so the tally of World Cup winners remains stuck at eight – France joining South America’s Argentina and Uruguay as two-time champions. But Croatia and its wonderful team, including the tournament’s best player Luka Modrić, increased the number of countries having reached the final to thirteen. Croatia joins the former Czechoslovakia (2), Hungary (2), Sweden and the Netherlands (3!) in the club of finalists who have never won. No stigma here, though: to this day, we recognize the 1954 Hungarian side with Ferenc Puskás and the 1974 Johan Cruyff led Dutch team as two of the very finest ever to play the game.

Back to France – what a three days the country had! Saturday, July 14, Bastille Day; then, Sunday, July 15, Les Bleus win the final in Moscow and a million people celebrate in Paris alone, with many more throughout the country; and finally, July 16, the twenty-three football heroes and their coach Didier Deschamps have a parade down the Champs Elysées, with another million people cheering them on. Deschamps, by the way, becomes a member of this most exclusive of clubs, composed of individuals who won the World Cup both as player and coach: only Mário Zagallo (1958 and 1962; 1970 as coach) and Franz Beckenbauer (1974; 1990 as coach) had achieved the feat thus far. Celebratory dinner for three?

Fourteen French national players took the pitch in the July 15 final, and their multiculturalism is reminiscent of their 1998 forebears, the original “Black-Blanc-Beur” team, that is to say composed of players of sub-Saharan African, Caribbean, European and North-African origin. One of them, Griezmann, professed a strong cultural affinity to Uruguay, and did not celebrate when he scored the second French goal in the quarterfinal against “La Celeste.” The starting eleven, Hugo Lloris; Benjamin Pavard; Samuel Umtiti; Raphael Varane; Lucas Hernández; N’Golo Kanté; Blaise Matuidi; Paul Pogba; Kylian Mbappé; Olivier Giroud; Antoine Griezmann, and the three “super subs” Corentin Tolisso; Steven Nzonzi; and Nabil Fekir, are some of La République’s proudest children. All of France, starting with Président Emmanuel Macron, will celebrate them: they are on top of the football world for the next four years.

The players extolled both diversity and attachment to France. Stalwart middle fielder Blaise Matuidi, in an interview with a Brazilian journalist, saluted “the beautiful diversity [of the team],” saying it reflected the “image of the country.” Kylian Mbappé, the revelation of the tournament, viewed as a potential successor to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, repeatedly affirmed his love for France. He also gave his tournament winnings to local charity associations helping underprivileged youths near his hometown of Bondy, a suburb in the northeastern outskirts of Paris.

Let’s leave the last word to the French team’s leader and talisman, Paul Pogba, whose parents immigrated from Guinea to settle in Lagny-sur-Marne, another eastern suburb of Paris: “There are lots of origins, this is what makes France, a beautiful France. The France of today is full of colors. We are all French, we are happy to wear this jersey. […] France is beautiful like this, it is like this that we love her, and that we will love her forever.”

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