Side Kick

 Russia 2018: 5 reasons Les Bleus are deserved winners


With Adebayo Olodan

Records were broken; dreams shattered amidst controversial moments but after about 40 days of excruciating football, France are deservedly World Cup champions. The 4-2 victory against surprise package Croatia is coming 20 years after the country won their first trophy at the biggest stage. Here are five reasons Didier Deschamps team emerged victorious in Russia.

 Most Valuable Squad

France had the most valuable squad at the tourney, worth $1.28 billion according to Transfermarkt. The first 11 was packed with stars plying their trade with top European clubs. Coach Deschamps did not have to rotate his team too much but when he did there were ready made replacements. Corentin Tolisso of Bayern Munich and Steven Nzonzi of Sevilla both fulfilled their duties when needed in the central midfield triangle, same for Lyon playmaker, Nabil Fekir who made cameo appearances. Only one outfield player, Adil Rami who did not play a single minute. Such was the depth in the squad that the coach left out PSG midfielder, Adrien Rabiot, Marseille’s Dimitri Payet and Tiemoune Bakayoko of Chelsea.

Steady Defence

The France defence was solid with the El Classico pairing of Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti doing a great job supported by full-backs, Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. Behind them, the highly experienced goalkeeper and captain,  Hugo Lloris  was commanding aside his ‘text wrapped gift’ for Mario Mandzukic which led to Croatia’s second goal in the final.

In front of them, midfielders N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi protected the defence, broke up the play and won back the ball, allowing Paul Pogba the freedom to create goal scoring chances.

Winning Mentality  

The France squad is a team of winners. Of the Starting XI in the final, six of them won major European trophies last  season. Umtiti won the Spanish League at Barcelona, Matuidi did same in Italy with Juventus and Kylian Mbappe at PSG in France. Hernadez and Antoined Griezmann won the Europa League with Atletico and Varane won the Champions League with Real Madrid. Though Kante did not win the Premier League with Chelsea last season but he did win the two previous seasons with different teams.

Telepathic combination of Mbappe and Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe stood out as two of the best players of the tournament, scoring four goals each to finish joint-second top scorer behind England’s Harry Kane. The pair sparkled throughout the tournament with Mbappe showing the world why he was the second most expensive player at the World Cup. The duo proved their productiveness by also scoring a goal each in the final. The pace of Mbappe and Griezmann created problem for many defenders at the tournament hence the French team could afford to seat back and soak the pressure before launching counter attacks. The Les Blues scored a number of goals through this strategy and it was not a surprise to see Griezmann nominated as the Man of the Match in that famous win against Croatia in the final. For Mbappe he was voted the Young Player of the Tournament and could have won the Player of the Tournament as well but he lost out narrowly to the highly experienced Luka Modric. At 19, the future is definitely bright for Mbappe and he looked like the next real deal after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. For me, Mbappe is more likely to win the FIFA Ballon D’or ahead of his PSG teammate and Brazil talisman, Neymar Jnr.  Baring any career threatening injury, Mbappe has at least three more World Cups to attend and with four goals on his debut, the youngster could rival the all-time top scorer of the tourney, Miroslav Klose.

Desire to make up for Euro 2016 defeat

Before setting out for Russia, the French players were more than determined to make up for the huge disappointment of Euro 2016. Playing on home soil and with a deep squad, the French were undoubtedly the favourites of that tournament but the less fancied Portuguese team inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo ended up as winners. That loss in Paris hurt the players and fans a lot and once they secured their place in the 2018 World Cup final, the Les Blues made sure they did not make the same mistake.

After the win against Croatia, Deschamps said, “It hurt so much to lose the Euros two years ago, but it made us learn too.”

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