By J. Ernanny
The Stade de France was silent when the final whistle blew during that eventful evening on the 10th of July 2016. The entire country was in shock and awe. France had just blown their best chance at glory in over 10 years. Les Bleus had just lost the Euro Cup final to a below average Portugal team in their home soil.
Before the Euro Cup, everyone saw France as the new golden generation of world football. But after the debacle in the final, these thoughts changed. Players such as Paul Pogba and Antoinne Griezmann were stripped of their titles as the next great French players. They went from heaven to hell in just a matter of days after the final. But what many forgot, was that these two players were still among the world’s best. To be the best, you have to perform at the biggest stage. This stage is known as the World Cup, and indeed they performed.
During the group stage, they didn’t prove enough potential. Two narrow victories over Australia and Peru followed by a goalless draw with Denmark. The French media was not happy and a clash will footballing powerhouse Argentina was next in line for Les Bleus. The pressure was on. They responded with a dominant 4-3 win (the scoreline does not reflect the sheer dominance of the French during the 90 minutes). Convincing 2-0 and 1-0 wins over Uruguay and Belgium, respectively, sent them to the final against a very strong Croatia side.
The Croatians had a tough road to the final. Much tougher than the one taken by the French. They were drawn into the so-called “Group of Death” and emerged from it in 1st place after defeating Argentina, Nigeria, and Iceland. Next up was Denmark. Croatia sent them home to Copenhagen after 120 minutes of play and penalties. The quarterfinals were against the hosts, Russia. The match, which proved to be one of the best of the entire tournament, again ended in penalties with Croatia, the victorious. Next up was England. This time the Croatians didn’t need penalties, but they did need extra time as they sent England home after an entertaining 2-1 win. The final was set: Croatia vs. France. Heavy favourites against perennial dark horses.
The game began electric. Chances for both sides emerged during the first 15 minutes, but no one took them. That changed after Mario Mandzukic scored in the 18th minute. Unfortunately, for him, it was an own goal and France were up one to zero. 10 minutes later, Croatia equalized via a long-range shot by Ivan Perisic. The stalemate ensued for another 10 minutes before Antoinne Griezmann gave the advantage to France after a penalty kick. Halftime struck and France was 2-1 up. The second half began with an energetic Croatia. They had one chance after another but still couldn’t capitalize. Unfortunately, for Croatia, two similar goals from Paul Pogba and teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé, respectively, made the game 4 to 1 and the deficit now seemed impossible to overcome. Croatia still scored a consolation goal with Mandzukic at the 69th minute but that wasn’t enough. The French were now the World Champions. They had redeemed themselves. The Euro Cup was long forgotten and the players and coaches were national heroes.