France, a World Cup Champion That Stood Above It All in Russia

France, a World Cup Champion That Stood Above It All in Russia


For a few minutes against Argentina, he seemed prepared to unleash it all, but it was only a flicker. Once victory was assured that day in Kazan, France drew back once more. It edged past Uruguay on a set piece and a stroke of luck. The same, more or less, followed against Belgium, and secured a place in the final.

Even then, on the grandest stage in the game, Deschamps seemed unwilling to unleash the full fury of his arsenal. Croatia, regarded by most as underdogs, had the ball, had the initiative. Twice in the first half, France took the lead, but it was not entirely clear how: it had not created a single chance.

Instead, it benefited from an own goal — Griezmann’s free-kick skimming Mario Mandzukic’s head — and, after Ivan Perisic’s equalizer, a penalty, awarded by Nestor Pitana, the Argentine referee, after several consultations both with the video referee and a video screen. Griezmann converted, coolly, confidently, and France once more stepped back, happy to wait.

Exactly what it was waiting for became clear in the space of six minutes in the second half: six minutes when both Pogba and Mbappé scored; six minutes in which France took the game, and the crown, beyond Croatia; six minutes that spoke volumes for the measure of French superiority over the past six weeks.

So potent is France’s attack that it does not need to play well for sustained periods. So rich is its talent that it only has to shine briefly to shine impossibly brightly.

This is a team good enough to play only in flashes. Before its opponents can recover their sight, their poise, they are finished. There is no sustained pressure, no incremental buildup. There is simply the moment, a few seconds, no more, and the damage is done.



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