When the young French ‘crack team’ struck gold

On top of the world
Members of the French team celebrate with the World Cup trophy. File photo: AFP
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In Spanish, it is known as the Copa Del Mundo and in French, the Coupe du Monde. In 2018, it was the Kubok Mira, but we most commonly know it as the FIFA World Cup. Whatever language you know it in, the FIFA World Cup is arguably the most popular sporting event of the world. The quadrennial event, which began in 1930 (there was no edition in 1942 and 1946 because of the Second World War), came to Russia in 2018.

The first World Cup to be held in Eastern Europe, the 2018 event, was the most expensive World Cup to date. An estimated three million people attended the matches, with 32 teams competing to win the coveted trophy. France beat Croatia on this day two years ago (July 15, 2018,) in an entertaining final and lifted the trophy for the second time, the first being in 1998.

The group stages do not usually pack many entertaining games but the story was different in 2018. The group stages did witness quite a few upsets and tight matches. Portugal versus Spain was one of the first high-profile games of the tournament. The game started with Ronaldo opening his account in the fourth minute with a spot-kick and Diego Costa levelling in the 24th minute. Spain, who dismissed their manager Julan Lopetegui a few days before the start of the competition, twice came from behind to take a 3-2 lead. Unfortunately for them, the Portuguese captain wasn’t going to give up that easily and in the 88th minute he curled a free-kick into the top corner to draw the match. This game set the tone for the rest of the tournament, with a high number of goals and entertaining matches.

Showman
Cristiano Ronaldo exults after scoring a goal against Spain in the group stage. File photo: AFP

The 3-0 thrashing of two-time champions Argentina was the launchpad of Croatia’s fairytale run. Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric was in full form as he led his team to the rout of Lionel Messi’s revered gang. Ironically, it was Messi’s Barcelona teammate Ivan Rakitic who struck the final nail in the coffin by completing the tally in injury time. This was one of the real shockers of the group stage.

Defending champions Germany were sent home in the group phase itself after losing 2-0 to South Korea. Germany, one of only three countries to have won the World Cup at least four times (the others being Brazil (five) and Italy (four), slunk home with drooping shoulders after the 2002 co-hosts scored two goals in stoppage time.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia saw a total of 169 goals, with Harry Kane of England taking home the Golden Boot for the most goals scored (six). Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois won the Golden Glove after the Red Devils put on a strong performance to finish third, defeating heavyweights such as England and Brazil along the way. There was only one goalless draw in the entire tournament, which was the group game between Denmark and France, with both sides assured of a place in the knockout phase. The Danes also held the Croats to 1-1 draw but lost out on penalties in their last-16 tie.

The tournament was seen by many to be the onset of a new generation of talent as the Messi-Ronaldo set was on the wane in the international scene.

Croatia’s entry into the final was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition. The team gave no quarters and battled their way into a maiden summit clash. But unfortunately for them, Didier Deschamps-coached young French squad with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Benjamin Pavard proved too much in the final. The French pulled off a 4-2 victory, but both sides were evenly matched and it could have gone either way.

“We know we did something big here. But when you come so close, it is not easy to take,” Croatian captain Modric, who won the Golden Ball award for best player, said after the final.

Modric & Mbappe
Luka Modric, left, with the Golden Ball for the best player and Kylian Mbappe with the best young player award. File photo: AFP

The FIFA World Cup is something that ties together not only football fans but others as well. It somehow finds a way to connect everyone with the common goal of enjoying the beautiful game in its best form. Football stars will rise, shine, and set, but the World Cup will stay forever.

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