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France win World Cup after classic final

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  • France win their second World Cup trophy
  • Highest-scoring World Cup final since 1958
  • Didier Deschamps becomes third man to win the World Cup as a player and head coach
  • France trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds at this World Cup
  • Mbappe second teenager in history to score in World Cup final

France beat Croatia 4-2 in a wild 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday. This game encapsulated what has been an incredible tournament in Russia as we had superb goals, VAR controversy and intriguing tactical battles.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Les Bleus took the lead via Mario Mandzukic’s own goal but Croatia equalized when Ivan Perisic drilled home a beauty. Before half time huge drama arrived as Perisic gave away a penalty kick for handball after referee Nista Pitana used VAR, then Antoine Griezmann made it 2-1 from the spot.

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France threatened to pull away in the second half as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe each scored to make it 4-1 but even a catastrophic error from Hugo Lloris to allow Mandzukic to make it 4-2 didn’t stop France who celebrated wildly at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]  

Didier Deschamps is now just the third man on the planet to win the World Cup as both a manager and player as the man who captained France to the first World Cup title in 1998 has now led them to their second. France are now just the sixth team in history to win multiple World Cup trophies.

After France lost the 2016 European Championship final on home soil in agonizing fashion, largely the same team has bounced back to secure World Cup glory.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Croatia started well with crosses from out wide causing France problems as the underdogs settled well.

France eventually got going and they took the lead from their first big chance. Griezmann went down easily to win a free kick and he whipped the ball in and Mandzukic flicked the ball into his own goal to put France 1-0 up.

But Les Bleus led for just 10 minutes as a free kick was only half cleared and Perisic took a fine touch with his right foot and then drilled home with his left to make it 1-1.

Perisic went from hero to villain 10 minutes later as France whipped in a corner and Perisic clearly handled in the box.

Referee Nista Pitana missed the handball but VAR instructed him to look at a pitch-side TV monitor and he made the correct call, awarding a penalty to France which Griezmann slotted home to make it 2-1.

Before half time Perisic put in a dangerous cross into the box but Ante Rebic couldn’t quite get his shot right as they pushed for an equalizer and went close from two more set pieces before the break.

[ MORE: World Cup stats ] 

After the break Croatia started well and Ante Rebic smashed a shot in on goal which Hugo Lloris tipped over, then Lloris rushed out to stop a chance and he was then clattered by Mandzukic.

Deschamps then brought off N'Golo Kante and he was replaced by Steven Nzonzi as France tried to regain the midfield from Croatia.

Pogba then scored the crucial third goal for France as he started a flowing move with a wonderful drilled pass, then finished off, at the second attempt, as he curled past Danijel Subasic.

France then looked to have clinched the game as Mbappe drilled home a fourth from distance with the 19-year-old becoming just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final.

What. A. Strike.

But no sooner had they started to believe the game was over than Lloris made a huge mistake to hand the ball right to Mandzukic who tapped home to make it 4-2.

Croatia pushed hard late on to try and pull another back as Rakitic dragged wide and they sent in plenty of crosses but France held on to win their second World Cup trophy.

Three things we learned: France v Croatia

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France beat Croatia in the 2018 World Cup as a six-goal thriller yielded plenty of controversial and memorable moments.

[ RECAP: France win World Cup ]

Les Bleus battled by Croatia as young stars Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba came up big in the second half to power past Croatia’s midfield veterans Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Celebrations

Below we take a look at the key storylines from what become a classic World Cup final.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


FRANCE GET VAR CALLS

There’s no doubting that the close calls went France’s way in the final, especially two key decisions.

First up: the VAR review on France’s first goal, an own goal by Mario Mandzukic, didn’t see Paul Pogba in an offside position when the free kick came in. Pogba was in an offside position when the ball was kicked and nudged into Mandzukic who headed into his own net, but the rules state that Pogba wouldn’t have been active until he made an attempt to challenge for the ball and by that time he was back onside in the second phase. He also wasn’t interfering with the goalkeeper so it appears that the rules were interpreted correctly in that case.

[ MORE: World Cup stats ] 

Then came the huge moment, the handball call on Perisic from a corner. This is probably a 60/40 decision, with 60 in favor of it being a handball. Perisic’s hands were up and he put it towards the ball and stopped the ball from going towards several French players crashing towards goal. It’s gut-wrenching to use this in a World Cup final, but it was certainly worth reviewing.

Croatia will point to key decisions going against them and had VAR not been available to use, it’s unlikely the penalty kick would have been given.


CROATIA GUTSY BUT FALL

This World Cup final summed up the 2018 tournament nicely. It didn’t make much sense at all.

From the get-go Croatia took the game to France and pinned them back, creating plenty of chances and only conceding after a own goal from a set piece and then a debatable penalty kick.

Croatia’s goal came from a moment of magic from Ivan Perisic and they went close on several occasions with crosses into the box causing France so many problems. Hugo Lloris made fine saves and interceptions in the second half to keep France ahead and although Croatia lost the World Cup final, they can leave Russia with their heads held high.

It’s tough to know how they could’ve done anymore to win the trophy as Rebic, Perisic and Mandzukic showed up but the extra 90 minutes they’d play compared to France meant they were jaded in the final stages.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic didn’t quite have the same time and space they’ve had on previous games and we expected that but a sign of Croatia’s dominance was N'Golo Kante being subbed off in the second half as France lost control of the central midfield area. Kante’s replacement, Steven Nzonzi, helped to steady the ship for France but Croatia still looked dangerous as they made France’s defense look shaky after two-straight clean sheets against Uruguay and Belgium.

Croatia’s incredible run to their first-ever final didn’t end in glory but their performance on the day deserved more.


POGBA, MBAPPE DELIVER

This was supposed to be the final where Kylian Mbappe, just the fourth teenager in history to play in a World Cup final, announced himself.

And he became just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final. The other? Pele.

Mbappe, 19, spent most of the first half trying to help out Benjamin Pavard lock down Ivan Perisic on France’s right flank but in the second half he came to life, bursting forward on the break, then drilling home a fine strike from distance to etch his name into World Cup folklore.

Yet apart from Mbappe’s moment of brilliance the only other French player to truly stand tall in the final was Paul Pogba who scored a crucial third and battled valiantly in midfield as Modric and Rakitic tried to drag Croatia level and got the better of N’Golo Kante. After all of the criticism of him at Manchester United over the past two seasons, Pogba delivered several disciplined displays to drive his team to glory.

It is fair to say that France will be remembered as being pragmatic rather than electric when it comes to this World Cup but Deschamps’ defensive unit, although rattled for large spells in this game, held firm.

Rapahel Varane and Samuel Umtiti dug deep and even a mistake from Hugo Lloris couldn’t stop them. France trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds during the entire 2018 World Cup and they relied on their stars to deliver in key moments.

Mbappe and Pogba did that on Sunday on the biggest possible stage and both of those superstars will be entering, or about to enter, their prime for the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba to Barca? Madrid wants Neymar

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Pro Soccer Talk examines the top transfer stories on Saturday, including a French star possibly on the move to Spain.

[ MORE: Chelsea announces manager Sarri, midfielder Jorginho ]


Could a strained relationship between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba force to the France international out of Old Trafford this summer?

Mundo Deportivo is reporting that Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has made his client available as France prepares to play in the World Cup final on Sunday.

The Spanish outlet suggests that Barcelona has come into play, as Pogba seeks a move away from Manchester following various issues with Mourinho.

Barcelona has been linked with a number of central midfielders this summer, including Chelsea’s N'Golo Kante and PSG man Adrian Rabiot, as Andres Iniesta’s exit from the team created a stir up.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]


Cristiano Ronaldo’s move away from Real Madrid has shaken the soccer world, and the UEFA Champions League winners aim to regroup in the Portugal international’s absence, one player continues to be at the top of their wish list.

Neymar appears to be Real’s preferred replacement for Ronaldo, and COPE is reporting that the Brazilian is the only real name that president Florentino Perez would want to sign this summer to fill the void.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and PSG’s Kylian Mbappe have also had their names thrown into the ring in recent reports, but Real seems keen on bringing superstar Neymar in to keep the club in contention in La Liga and Europe in 2018/19.


Finally, West Ham United appears close to a move for Lazio’s Felipe Anderson, after being linked to the midfielder for several weeks.

Anderson is reportedly in London for a medical, as the Brazilian aims to finalize the deal, which would make him the most-expensive transfer in club history.

How will Chelsea line up under Maurizio Sarri?

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For the 11th time in as many years, Chelsea has a new manager.

It seems like a large number for a club that has had as much success as it has; because it is.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]

Maurizio Sarri has officially taken over with the Blues following Antonio Conte‘s sacking, and the new Italian manager has already helped the club ensure it will have one of the best (if not the best) midfields in the Premier League thanks to his first signing.

Former Napoli central midfielder Jorginho has joined the Stamford Bridge side to form a formidable partnership in the middle of the park alongside French superstar N'Golo Kante.

It’s that relationship amongst the two ball winners that could really propel the Blues into another gear, after the club had its moments of struggle last season after Nemanja Matic‘s departure for Manchester United.

[ MORE: Belgium tops England for best finish in team’s WC history ]

Now, several names in the attack have been rumored to be nearing moves away from Chelsea, including Eden Hazard and Willian, which would clearly be a devastating blow to Sarri’s plans in his first season in charge.

Both Hazard and Willian are sure-fire starters under any manager, but that is of course assuming that they remain with the club ahead of next month.

As the squad is currently constructed, the Blues are missing a traditional number 10 attacker that sits behind the striker, although Hazard has the freedom to roam throughout the pitch as necessary.

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That will likely leave a third slot open in the midfield if Sarri aims to use a traditional 4-3-3, and it could very well go to Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who comes back from a loan spell at Crystal Palace last season.

Loftus-Cheek is a bit more of a creative player than a Kante or Jorginho, however, he possesses the size and physicality necessary to track back defensively when needed, which gives Sarri flexibility in his tactical makeup.

Meanwhile, striker Alvaro Morata’s future with the club remains unknown as well, with recent reports suggesting that Sarri could aim to bring in Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain in a straight swap of players.

Behind Morata sits Olivier Giroud, who struggled in much of his time with the Blues over the latter half of the 2017/18 campaign, while Tammy Abraham has become an intriguing prospect for the Blues as well.

It remains to be seen, though, if Abraham will get a crack with the first team this season or be sent out on loan once again.

With less than a month until the start of the PL season, Sarri has his work cut out for himself, after bringing in a positive player to bolster the club’s midfield with Jorginho.

Defensively, there are still some questions, particularly in regards to how the back line will align itself.

Conte’s three-back system will likely dissolve following his exit, as Sarri employs a traditional four-back setup similar to what he used in Serie A.

Cezar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are almost certainties at the two outside back positions, while centrally the club boasts a solid amount of depth.

Gary Cahill remains in the fold, along with David Luiz, however, the Brazilian will likely have to battle with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger for a starting role.

Christensen was sturdy for the majority of 2017/18, and given his budding stardom, it’s likely that Sarri will put his confidence in the young defender early on.

Below, Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at who will likely start for Chelsea under Sarri’s new regime.


France vs. Croatia presents scrumptious tactical World Cup chess match

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The World Cup final is nearly here, and with that, a look at the tactical proficiencies of each side is at hand.

France has done just enough to sneak by every opponent thus far, earning all but one of their five wins to this point by one goal. However, they come into the final against Croatia as heavy favorites thanks to a star-studded lineup that has performed on multiple levels thus far in Russia.

Didier Deschamps has to this point stuck with a standard 4-5-1 formation that allows the team to stay compact defensively,  control the midfield and pick chances up front. Kylian Mbappe has been given the flexibility to take players on down the right and find teammates in the middle. Against Belgium, France was comfortable to concede 64% possession to the opponents and allow Mbappe to create chances for the other attackers.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

This presents a different challenge for Croatian boss Zlatko Dalic than he faced against England, when Croatia stretched Gareth Southgate‘s midfield with quality full-back play. That won’t work as well against the 4-3-3, meaning Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic will have to stay home. It will be interesting to see if Deschamps continues to deploy Blaise Matuidi on the right to defend Ante Rebic and look to pummel Vrsaljko, or if he will change things up and bring on Ousmane Dembele to pin Vrsaljko back with his pace and technical abilities. Matuidi appeared to suffer a significant head injury in the semifinal against Belgium, but reports say he is still in contention to play on Sunday.

France’s unbalanced setup with Matuidi on one side and Mbappe on the other has done the job so far, but it has presented some problems as well. For one, it has exposed right-back Benjamin Pavard at times, who has held his own for the most part but occasionally looked overwhelmed. In addition, on the other side of the back line, Lucas Hernandez has been sensational defending the left, but his attacking presence is minimal, and aside from a quality cross or two, his defensive mindset along with Matuidi’s lumbering style leaves France incredible lopsided. That means Vrsaljko and Rebic could potentially see a lot of the ball again, stretching France’s midfield the same way it did England’s.

[ MORE: Pre-Final PST Roundtable ]

Another problem for France could be that Antoine Griezmann hasn’t looked entirely comfortable sitting behind Olivier Giroud, and has performed in spots this World Cup, with two of his three goals this tournament coming from the penalty spot.

However, all problems are minimized when a team has N'Golo Kante marauding through the middle of the pitch. Kante’s presence gives France a huge leg up on shutting down Croatia’s strongest midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. The latter especially has starred under the bright Russian lights this summer, and has especially roared loudest in the second half of matches when given more freedom to push forward. Modric has shown a desire to get forward and make a difference, unless he’s tasked with marshalling the midfield with Rakitic. For the most part, the presence of defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozovic has had a notable impact on Modric’s proficiency pushing forward on the ball. In the 90 minutes or so Brozovic has been on the bench – the first hour of the group opener against Nigeria and the first half of their quarterfinal matchup against Russia – Modric was noticeably hesitant moving into attacking positions. Expect Brozovic to start so Croatia can hope to match the French midfield wall of Kante and Paul Pogba, leaving Modric and Rakitic to try and stretch Kante into double duty.

The final key tactical battle will be in the French penalty area. It pits poacher extraordinaire Mario Mandzukic against aerially sound defenders Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane. In the semifinal, Belgium pummeled the French penalty area with a whopping 26 crosses, only five of which met its mark – four of which came either at or outside the penalty spot. Croatia’s approach against England was similar, subjecting the Three Lions defense to the soccer equivalent of an artillery bombardment, attempting 40 crosses in their semifinal meeting. Only three of those were successful, but one assisted Ivan Perisic’s 60th minute equalizer.

All eyes will be on N’Golo Kante in his high-profile midfield battle against Modric and Perisic, but there is plenty more for Didier Deschamps to contend with. France will have its hands full with deserving finalists Croatia, and the chess match that will ensue in Moscow on Sunday will be nothing short of fascinating.