MOSCOW, Russia - There’s a reason Football is called ‘The Beautiful Game.’
The World Cup finale of 2018 meant many things to many people across the globe, but on Sunday night, as France created history and Croatia created a sliver of its own… there was something more that the world’s sport aficionados craved to watch - A well-played match.
While French fans desired no less than a victory they have waited for, for two long decades, Croatia hoped their gritty performance over the last month would help them add another chapter to their historic stint in the biggest match in sport.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world watched to see who would be coronated the greatest at the World Cup Final - a stage that made Pele become Pele, Maradona become Maradona and a stage that left Messi craving for a place on the altar that would have crowned him inarguably the best ever.
Millions across the world tuned in, through various platforms, to watch a match that satiates every football and non-football fan and delivers 90 minutes of 2018, that can linger in their minds for four long years - until another team plays another memorable game sans any class barriers.
On Sunday night, all eyes were train on Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, when France deservingly won soccer fame that it first won in 1998 and has since tried hard to achieve.
Winning its position in the finale for the first time ever, and facing off against France - a country that had entered the finale as obvious victors - Croatia played a game, that was descriptive of its performance throughout their World Cup outing - a game of passion and grit.
From mind-boggling goals to invaders trying to stall the finale, Sunday’s game had it all and at the end of it, France managed to seal its second World Cup triumph in history, winning 4-2 against the resilient Croatians.
One of the most entertaining and action-packed finals for decades ended the battling outsiders’ dreams of a first title after Mario Mandzukic delivered the first goal very early in the game.
France’s second goal was a penalty scored by Antoine Griezmann, which came from a borderline VAR decision that has already polarized opinion, leaving Croatian furious.
Following this, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe scored in quick succession, sealing the deal from France.
However, Croatia responded likewise, with Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic scoring in their first appearance in the final and leaving a beaten but unbowed sort of impression in everyone’s mind.
The VAR-decided spot-kick emerged as the turning point of the game, one that Croatia was furious about.
But the game also featured the first final own goal.
Becoming a world champion at the age of 19, Mbappe will now hold the record of being the first teenager to score in a final since Pelé in 1958.
Despite the lows and certain highs, France will remember just one bottomline - that they were crowned world champions for the second time following their triumph on home soil in 1998.
The next edition of the French national shirt will have two stars above the cockerel and the players
Amongst the many records broken on Sunday, the game set the record for becoming the highest-scoring decider since England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in 1966.
It also became the match with the most goals in normal time since Brazil defeated Sweden 5-2 60 years ago.
Sunday’s victory was further special for the country since Didier Deschamps, captain of the 1998 France side, became the third man to lift the World Cup as player and coach after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.
And when the game ended, the entire French squad piled on top of one another in the victory scrum - with the substitutes throwing themselves into the heap of arms and legs, trying to find a place in the victory image that would go down in history come what may.
As the tricolors fluttered in the background, an almost biblical downpour added to the jubilant scenes and Deschamps was carried shoulder-high by the team.
Relishing every minute of it and expressing pride as his team had won stylishly, scoring four times in a world cup final, Deschamps later said gleefully, “This is not about me, it’s about everyone around me and the players.”
He added, “It’s a young team who are on the top of the world. Some are champions at the age of 19, but my greatest source of pride is they had the right state of mind.”
He also acknowledged, "We did not play a huge game but we showed mental quality. And we scored four goals anyway. They deserved to win. The group worked so hard and we had some tough moments along the way. It hurt so much to lose the Euro two years ago, but it made us learn too. The win is not about me, it's the players who won the game.”
Deschamps said, "For 55 days, we have done a lot of work. It is the supreme coronation. We are proud to be French, to be Blues. The victory in the match belongs to them. Vive le Republic.”
The French team then lifted the golden trophy with the thunder and slate skies adding to the drama.
In the background, global broadcasters focussed for a bid on Croatia’s shirtless fans who saluted their players even as torrential rain lashed down on the presentation ceremony
Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic later said, “We are sad but proud at the same time. We played well but the penalty knocked the wind out of us and after that it was very difficult. I just want to say one sentence about that penalty: You don't give a penalty like that in a World Cup final.”
He added, “We wanted to win the World Cup so much, but that's football. The French did not surprise us, we let in two soft goals coupled with an own goal and a penalty. What we had in terms of luck in this tournament, we lacked today. When you concede four goals you cannot expect to win the game.”
Dejected, Dalic concluded, “We have been dignified in our victories and we must be in defeat as well.”
What will also be remembered about this match is the pitch invasion stunt pulled by members of the Russian punk rock group which calls itself the ‘Pussy Riot.’
Meanwhile, the Russian President Vladimir Putin declared later that he enjoyed a "theatrical performance" during the 2018 FIFA World Cup final match.
When questioned which team he had been rooting for, Putin told reporters from across the world, “I was just enjoying a theatrical performance.”
As an afterthought, he added that he considered France's victory well-deserved, as they showed "class."
Putin said, “We saw one serious goal, but in general Croatia were playing openly, they took risks, but they missed something somewhere, this happens... France showed... class.”
Reactions poured in almost immediately, with one of the best one coming from the 77-year-old Brazilian legend Pele, who threatened a comeback if the Paris Saint-Germain star continues to equal his records in similar fashion.
Pele tweeted, “If Kylian keeps equalling my records like this I may have to dust my boots off again…”
Shakira tweeted, “Congratulations France for making history and to Croatia for an amazing tournament!”
American actress Reese Witherspoon tweeted, “Great game both teams! Congratulations #France! What an exciting end to the World Cup!”
Ryan Seacrest tweeted, “And #FRA wins the #WorldCup! Huge respect to #CRO for beating the odds and fighting til the end! Incredible #WorldCupFinal - cheers to all the teams on a great tournament.”