France are World Cup champions for 2018, defeating a gallant Croatian side 4-2 in a gripping final. Here, we look back on the goals, upsets, protests and stars that defined the tournament.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 16, 2018

The final

True to form, the final was nothing if not eventful. France scored first after an own goal from a set piece. Croatia hit back through a strike from Ivan Perišić, playing the match of his life, before France regained the lead after a somewhat contentious penalty awarded by the video assistant referee (VAR).

While Croatia continued to dominate possession, France was more clinical in front of goal and stretched out to a 3-1 lead when teenager Kylian Mbappé again used his pace to create space for Antoine Griezmann to set up Paul Pogba. Mbappé cemented the victory with a long-range strike before Croatia scored a late consolation goal through a blunder from French keeper Hugo Lloris but it did not prove crucial.

As France lifted the trophy, the heavens opened, providing one last unexpected wrinkle in a tournament full of them. While Les Bleus had their share of luck in the final, they had been dominant throughout the tournament and became only the second nation in the 32-team era of the tournament to win all their knockout matches without any extra time.

The protest

The second half of the final was also notable for a pitch invasion with four people running onto the field before being accosted by security. Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot took responsibility for the incident, posting a statement on social media demanding that all political prisoners be set free, that Russia allow political competition and that people not be illegally detained at political rallies.

Hours later, the group reported on Twitter that the members who ran onto the pitch were still in police custody and did not have access to a lawyer.

The goals

Among the best goals of the tournament was a remarkable team counterattack by Belgium, finished by Nacer Chadli:

This curling free kick from Cristiano Ronaldo:

and this wonder strike from Brazilian Philippe Coutinho:

The own goals

This World Cup set a new record for own goals, with a total of 12 recorded. It was also the first time an own goal had been scored in a final, with Croatian forward Mario Mandžukić credited with the first French goal. Remarkably, if ‘own goal’ counted as a scorer, it would have easily been the top scorer in the tournament, doubling the tally of Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, who had six goals.

The Golden Ball winner

Croatian midfielder Luka Modrić was awarded the Golden Ball for player of the tournament, joining some of the sport’s greatest names including Pelé (1970), Zinedine Zidane (2006) and Lionel Messi (2014). He was instrumental in all three of Croatia’s come from behind victories.

Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic said Modrić “played a terrific tournament” and “did the lion’s share of our play”.

The upsets

From the qualifying stages, where Italy, the Netherlands and the United States all failed to make it to Russia to the group stages where the favourites floundered it has been a tournament of boilovers. The most stunning early exit was that of defending champions Germany, who scored only two goals in the World Cup and were sensationally toppled by South Korea.

The revival

England finished the tournament fourth but the bigger narrative was how manager Gareth Southgate turned around the fortunes of a national side once beset by underperformance and disappointment by selecting a youthful team and playing upbeat football.

He won plaudits for his tactical nous, ability to take both wins and losses with humility and even for his stylish waistcoats, which boosted sales across the UK. Fuelled by an optimism they had not known for years, English fans dusted off The Lightning Seeds’ anthem ‘Three Lions’ which re-entered the charts at number one and gave fans a catchcry in “It’s coming home”.

The breakout star

French teenager Kylian Mbappé was a revelation at the tournament, repeatedly using his explosive acceleration to wreck even the most solid of defensive schemes. He finished with four goals, all memorable, and is is expected to become one of the world’s dominant players in years to come.

His off-field deeds also proved inspiring; after the tournament, it was revealed Mbappé was giving his winnings (which included a winning bonus of around US$350,000) to a humanitarian charity.

The numbers

The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world and it was anticipated that some 3.4 billion people would tune in throughout the tournament while more than three million people watched the matches in person.

Host nation Russia spent around US$11.8 billion building stadia and preparing for the event, while FIFA was expected to reap a profit of around US$6 billion.