Sunday 21 July 2019

John Giles: France are world champions but they didn't really shine in the final - or even in the tournament

Celebrations are continuing in Paris after France won a second World Cup on Sunday (Owen Humphreys/PA Images)
Celebrations are continuing in Paris after France won a second World Cup on Sunday (Owen Humphreys/PA Images)

John Giles

AFTER a World Cup of thrills, spills and fairly ordinary football, France deserved to raise the trophy into the sky in Moscow but my heart went out to Croatia.

In the end, France’s big guns delivered but I couldn’t say that Didier Deschamps’ team of young men ever really shone in this final or even in a tournament so seriously reduced by the collapse of major football powers like Spain, Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Portugal.

France got to the final by steady improvement and great discipline and faced with a very switched on Croatia, struggled for large parts of the game.

But they soaked up what Croatia had to offer, kept their discipline very well and in the crunch moments, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba lived up to their reputations and scored the goals which made all the difference.

I said before the game that if the Pogba we saw throughout June and in the knock-out stage continued to show a willingness to be a team player and do the job given to him by his manager, France would win.

I can’t say he had a Man of the Match kind of performance but he stuck with the script Deschamps gave him and when a chance arose, he set up and finished the goal which made it 3-1 and really knocked the stuffing out of the Croatians.

They couldn’t catch a break throughout the game, Luka Modric and his team-mates. They peppered Hugo Lloris’s goal in the first half and even after they gave away an own-goal via Mandzukic’s head, they continued to play their game and looked very dangerous every time they attacked.

Ivan Peresic’s equaliser put them firmly back in the game when Nestor Pitana went to VAR on a penalty shout which I think he got wrong.

The VAR process unfolded perfectly and the only problem I had was with the final call he made. It was a very, very harsh penalty and I’m not sure Perisic knew anything about it when the ball hit his hand.

There was also a clear dive by Griezmann for the free-kick which brought the French into Croatia’s penalty area.

It didn’t knock Croatia back for long and when the second half kicked off, they picked up their high-tempo, passing game again and I could see them equalising when Pogba caught the rebound off his own right foot shot with a sweet left-footed drive.

It was a classy finish, as was Mbappe’s soon afterwards and although Croatia kept at it, and kept trying for another goal, the only consolation they got for their work was a clown moment from Lloris which let Mandzukic in.

Great credit to Croatia for the way they kept fighting but there was no way through this powerfully athletic France team.

Overall, it was a good World Cup for entertainment and shocks but as an examination of the condition of the world game, it didn’t produce a definitive statement of superiority by any team or any player.

Mbappe is now known across the globe and he will carry the hopes of those of us who love to see great players performing at the height of their powers.

Modric is a gem, the best in the world in his position but there are so few like him around and I’ve been worried about that for a long time.

VAR has worked well in this tournament and the only pity is that we won’t see it in the Premier League next season. But I’m very optimistic about it now that we’ve seen it in action.

It needs some tweaking but it’s here to stay.

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