Penalty, VAR, goals, pitch invaders! What a final
Abhijit: What a final! One of the best in terms of entertainment. It had everything - Penalty, VAR, goals, pitch invaders. And after 18 barren years, Les Bleus finally have an addition to their trophy cabinet and what a way to end the drought! It was a captivating end to a fascinating World Cup – six goals in a final was a throwback to the past but it was all part of the entertainment which was long overdue on France’s part throughout the tournament.
It all came together at last, but Croatia also deserve a lot of credit for fighting hard until they were out of gas. It wasn’t to be for Modric and co, but the French will party today like there’s no tomorrow. Les Bleus can add another star to their crest after 20 years. Didier Deschamps lifted the holy grail last time out, and it was once again the grey-haired Deschamps who masterminded this triumph. There will be songs sung and stories written of this current generation in years to come, but the winners look like they have just gotten started.
I called it.....yess....I called it
Arnav: It was my pre-tournament prediction: France were going to win it. And win it they did. This was the most exciting World Cup final I have ever been alive to watch, combining the fantastic with the farcical. There were certainly moments of France at their best — Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe's goals come to mind, but this was an enthralling and evenly-matched contest throughout, even if that won't be reflected in the scoreline. But everything said and done, France are the deserving champions, for the sheer talent they have in their squad, for the mental fortitude they have consistently displayed, and for the tactical ingenuity of Didier Deschamps.
It's coming to an end, I am sad
Aman: And so it comes to a close. One month ago, on the 14th of June, hosts Russia thumped Saudi Arabia 5-0, and so it began. Now, one month later, we as a sporting fanbase have been sent for an absolute rollercoaster ride. We are onto the final match now. France have proved much since their uninspired group stage showing, with Kylian Mbappe emerging as one of the most explosive young players in world football, along with one of the youngest teams in this tournament showing flair, excitement, and even the grip and grin of a seasoned championship side. Croatia, on the other hand, after a stunning group stage performance, have been driven to extra time in each of their three knockout games since, two of which went to penalties; hardly decisive. Despite that, Croatia, led by the illustrious Luka Modric, find themselves on the cusp of the greatest dark horse story of any World Cup. Can the Croatian golden generation out-discipline this young and energetic French side to become a new country to win a World Cup? As a neutral fan, who has never enjoyed an international tournament half as much as this one, with it’s pulsating and dramatic football, minute to minute without exception, I think I can safely speak for all fans of the sport when I pray for nothing less than a breathless, energetic and passionate display, as the footballing world holds it’s breath. This rollercoaster ride is, most, unfortunately, almost over.
I don't care about 3rd place, but I'm disappointed
Arnav: I didn't care about this but I'm still disappointed.Third place playoffs are the most boring event in the entire tournament. Even though it's contested between two of the better sides, it's clear that neither players nor fans are interested, having missed out on the real prize.The only reason I'm disappointed is that England have lost twice to Belgium. Their B-team was better then our B-team, and now we've seen that their a-team is also better than ours. Strangely enough, England have won four and lost three at this tournament, but it's still been deemed a successful campaign. Ah well, the English glass so rarely has anything in it, so I may as well call it half-full.
Belgium's 'Golden Generation' settles for third place
Abhijit: Belgium failed to secure ultimate glory, but they at least finished the World Cup by winning something, however insignificant that may be.
The Red Devils neatly dispatched England 2-0 to seal a third placed finish, adding a little gloss to their World Cup campaign. Belgium head home with a feeling of what could have been, especially after beating Brazil, but there’s a lot of positives to take home from this World Cup for the players as well as the manager.
This was the tournament where Belgium were supposed to come off age, and they certainly did. That semi-final defeat to France certainly hurt, but that will stand them in good stead for future tournaments. With Euro 2020 next in their sights, this Belgian side will once again be primed for ultimate glory.
To take the optimist's point of view, Belgium ended their campaign on a positive note by winning their final World Cup game and finishing third, something the losing finalists won't be able to do on Sunday.
So near, yet so far for England
Aman: It was so nearly home. England were sunk earlier today by Croatia by 2 goals to 1 in extra time. The thing that will sting the most will be the fact that England were just over 10 minutes away from the whistle for penalties being blown, leaving the game up to the hands of fate. England pulled ahead early in the fifth minute of play; a superbly executed dead ball hit the back of Subasiç’s net from the foot of Kieran Trippier.
England controlled the next hour of play, with Croatia barely getting a look in, barring a half decent foray into the area before half time, but never really troubled Pickford. England fans will call, with some amount of merit, that Croatia’s equalizer, a reaching finish from Ivan Perišić off a superb cross, should have been called back for a high boot. The offence was never appealed for, however, and the rest of the 90 were played evenly.
As extra time began, it was clear that neither side was interested in penalties, though clear cut chances were few and far between; until the 109th minute of play, when a nod on header offset the English defensive line, leaving Mario Mandžukić to place home what would ultimately be the difference. Croatia’s golden generation has booked a place in the ring with France, while England will have to settle for a third place playoff with Belgium on Saturday. This team will be back before long, but for now they have only to wish and wonder; of how football was nearly coming home.
How did it go so horribly, awfully, tearfully wrong for England?
Arnav: Oh no. No no no no no no. I can barely type. It seemed written in the stars: England had their classic white kit out, there were no injuries, Trippier scored an absolute peach in the sixth minute.Where did it all go so horribly, awfully, tearfully wrong? I could diagnose a bunch of things: Croatia's revival after half time, questionable substitutions from Southgate, goodness knows what else. I'm in no mood to run the rule right now.England are cursed aren't they? I said it at the start, ecstatic hope and crushing disappointment. How the latter sucker punches you every time. Every. Single. Time.Now it's time for the post-loss ritual that every England fan knows all too well: hiding behind the sofa.
France are bringing it home, yes they are
France’s team of superstars did some justice to their reputation by reaching the World Cup final. It’s their second consecutive major tournament final appearance, and after what happened at home two years ago, they will not let this chance pass. France are the favourites now to lift the World Cup purely because of the ruthless professionalism in their winning performance against Belgium.
Belgium were the better team of individuals but France kept their discipline intact throughout the match, a hallmark of champion teams. France look like world champions already, having beaten the strongest team of the semis. In comparison to Belgium, England and Croatia look far inferior opponents but Les Bleus can’t afford to underestimate anyone considering what happened two summers ago. Can they shrug off the losing finalists' tag from Euro 2016? Sunday’s title clash will provide all the answers. Until then, it’s Allez les Bleus all over.
Never doubt my prediction
Arnav: Honestly, no surprises there. Many seem to be shocked that France managed to defeat Brazil-vanquishers Belgium. I'm not surprised at all at this result. My pre-game prediction had been 2-1 to France. I always considered them the stronger side of the two but felt that Belgium, with all their attacking riches, had it in them to score at least one.
Today though, we saw the difference between the two attacks. Lukaku, Belgium's striker, might be a more high-profile player with a better scoring record but France's Giroud, despite having had zero shots on target this tournament, is the link that binds his superstar teammates together as they attack.
Another reason I wasn't surprised at this result was something I'd brought up after the Uruguay quarter-final: once France take a lead, they can close the game down very effectively, preventing the opposition from even getting a look in. That's why Belgium needed to score first. They didn't, so they lost. On to final for Les Blues then.
The stakes have been raised!
Aman: The 2018 World Cup in Russia reaches new levels of excitement as two favorites clash head on in the first semi-final match.
France and Belgium are two attractive, entertaining sides with big names lining up on both ends of the field. France, strangely, have more to prove in this match, after a run in this tournament that can be described as ‘decent’, not ‘exceptional’. Belgium, on the other hand, have at no point in this tournament failed to light up the stage, playing energetic, end-to-end football.
Romelu Lukaku has shined, really showing his worth to any doubters he had left before this tournament. And indeed, quality in front of goal might be the difference between the two sides, both sporting world class midfield prowess. Fans should expect a fierce midfield contest, and can hopefully look forward to fluid, flowing play.
Many are calling this match the real final of the tournament, and, with nothing less than the world cup on the line, rivals France and Belgium will collide in the most high stakes fixture to be played in Russia.
If football is a drug, I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms
Arnav: The thing about tournament football is that it comes at you all at once.
Two or three games a day, and you end up spending at least 2.5 hours in front of the TV. Then you’ve got the constant stream of analysis: the player ratings, the match reports, the expert takes, the things we’ve learned, the tactical dissections, the team power rankings. Next comes the process of actually writing a little about it yourself, and discussing the World Cup with friends.
Once you’ve done all that, there isn’t time for much else. So when there is a day between rounds, like today, you are forced to go completely cold turkey. Nothing to do. Stare at the wall all day imagining the most fanciful tactical arrangements and creating mental dream teams. Perhaps you’ll spontaneously remember that ‘its coming home’.
But besides that, you’re at a complete loss for things to do. Today, I opened up a different page of the newspaper for the first time in days. It turns out, there’s an England-India cricket series been going on this entire time, and Wimbledon is approaching its conclusion. The British government might be about to collapse, and 8 of the Thai boys have been rescued. Who knew?
Russia go down fighting
Aman: The hosts of this most dramatically unpredictable World Cup have been eliminated.
The jokes of doping and tampering can officially be put to rest. A relatively stale first thirty minutes gave way to an opener from Russia, a stunning strike from the blue, scored by Cheryshev. However, Luka Modric proved once again that there is simply no one else in the world quite like him, as he guided his side to a well deserved equalizer and then a lead in extra time. As the minutes came and went, the sheer volume and energy of the fans in Russia could be felt all the way around the world, and just five minutes before the full time whistle was to be blown, Russia pegged one back through Brazilian-born Russian national Mario Fernandes.
While penalties are most certainly not a game of chance, there was an element of ‘anything can happen’ as the whistle signaling the end of extra time sounded, but after a topsy-turvey shootout, Croatia emerged victorious with the final spot kick. A well deserved place in the final four for Croatia, who have greatly impressed in this World Cup. They play England in the next round, while the Russian side makes the woeful trudge home in their country, after a number of encouraging performances.
Finally, Luka Modric gets what he deserves on the international stage
Abhijit: It might be just a semi-final for Modric and Croatia, but that’s pretty big for a small nation with modest resources. A lot of noise has been made about Belgium’s golden generation but this is Croatia’s golden generation too, although one that has grown a bit ripe with time. That said, the Croats finally got their just deserts but still had to do it the hard way.
Another penalty shootout drama must have tested the patience of Croatia fans, but that’s a small price to pay for a first semi-final appearance since 1998. Modric, Rakitic and co will now look to get past familiar foes England, and a first final is very much in sight. They took out the hosts Russia last night, now it’s time to send England back home. And Croatia very much have it in them to do so.