The 2018 World Cup in Russia has come to an end. With another competition in the books, it is time to review the final matches.
Semi-final: France vs Belgium
Many people expected a high scoring match, with two of the most attacking teams meeting in St. Petersburg. However, the game did not turn out to be as action filled as the fans had anticipated. Although in the majority of the first half it was Belgium who controlled the ball, they were not able to create any decisive chances that would have led to a goal. Instead, it was Samuel Umtiti, French defender, who rose above everyone else in the box to steer a header past Thibaut Courtois. This sealed him the man of the match award, and France, a place in the World Cup final.
For Belgium, it was still the greatest run they have ever done in a World Cup, despite the fact they did not quite make it all the way to the end. Courtois, however, was not pleased with the result nor with the style of play the French played with. He accused the French of playing anti-football, saying their strikers played away from goal.
Nevertheless, France now had to wait and see who would join them in the final.
Semi-final: England vs Croatia
Prior to the match there were some questions about the freshness of the teams, as both squads had played at least one extra-time period in the tournament. Furthermore, there were questions whether Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic would be fit for this match, as he suffered a hamstring injury in the fixture against Russia. Fortunately for Croatia, he was ultimately cleared to play and ready to go.
The game started off with a shocker, as in the 5th minute, England’s Kieran Trippier sent a free kick to the back of Croatia’s net. Furthermore, as the match went on, it was clear that Croatia’s defense had problems with the quickness of the English strikers. As a result, the first half belonged solely to England.
However, in the second half, we saw a completely different side of Croatia. It was like the teams had switched sides, with England being put under pressure and not doing anything on the offensive side. This passiveness ultimately cost them the lead, as Ivan Perisic equalized the game in the 68th minute, which meant we were going to see extra-time.
In the extra-time, the game was up for the taking for both teams. It was ultimately Mario Mandžukić being the hero by scoring a late goal, sending Croatia to the final for the first time ever to face France.
Third place match: Belgium vs England
With both of the teams losing in the semi-final, it was time to decide the third place in the tournament. Several times in World Cup history the third place match has been a time where teams rest their stars, however this time both teams came to play at their best.
Belgium took the lead right from the start, with Thomas Meunier sliding in ahead of Danny Rose to put the ball behind England’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. In the 23rd minute, England’s Harry Kane had a good chance outside the box to equalize the game, but his shot went just wide. As the game went on, England had more chances, but still were not able to create anything decisive enough.
As a result, Eden Hazard wrapped it up for Belgium with eight minutes left when he got the better of Phil Jones and steered the ball past Pickford.
Despite losing two of the last matches in the World Cup, England can still return to home soil with their heads held up high, as they have revived their reputation by exceeding everyone’s expectations.
Final: France vs Croatia
It is safe to say France went to this game as the favourites as Croatia with a population of only 4.2 million people had already exceeded many expectations.
Unexpectedly, the match ended up being the highest scoring final since 1966. The game started off with Croatian striker Mario Mandžukić scoring an unfortunate own goal. However, it did not take much time for Croatia to equalize as in the 28th minute Ivan Perišić put a beauty behind goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. That was the last time the match could be considered equal as from then on France never looked back. Behind the brilliance of Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba in the second half, France were crowned as the World Cup winners for the second time in history.
For Croatians, there was still something to cheer about as their star Luka Modrić was chosen as the best player in the tournament ahead of Eden Hazard and Antoine Griezmann. 19-year-old phenom Kylian Mbappe won the best young player award, and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois was given the Golden Glove award.
Modrić, despite winning an individual award, was disappointed in the result. He thought they were the better team for the majority of the game, yet some clumsy goals cost them the title.
Nevertheless, it was a day for France to celebrate a new generation of heroes, to eagerly await their return to Paris, and to hope for another successful tournament in four years.