A victory like an excellent champagne without bubbles.

The deed is done. France has added a second star to its jersey, the second trophy for the tricolour team at this 21st World Cup Final. Twenty years after their first, Les Bleus were able to repeat this fabulous exploit and once more hold high the cup coveted by a few billion people on earth. The history of football is now paying homage to its new legends. Yet there’s an after-taste that stops us from savouring this victory, yelling and crying for joy like we did in 98… Some might say that’s par for the course. It’s a bit like the second mission to the moon. For the Americans, and many others, Apollo 11 was a permanent pacemaker until their heroes made it back to earth. The world tour celebrating inter-cosmic glory was so phenomenal that they visited the Russians who saluted the exploit and stopped the race around our little grey satellite. The next lunar landing was a dud. It would have taken a huge disaster, a “Houston, we have a problem” in space, for the American nation to experience a revival of ardent passion for its astronauts and the lunar saga.

It was a final in the land of the Tsars with little brilliance. An insipid affair that lacked genius and inspiration, a match that was too tactical, scientific, almost Teutonic. The magic of football’s glory days was missing.

The French played like Germans with their formidable sang-froid. They were stoic, stiff and heavy like the lead figures in table football. The beauty of the game just wasn’t there, but the score was confirmed and irrevocable. And maybe that’s the one thing we could fault this sport for at its highest tier of competition: it’s become too cut and dried, too calculated, too predictable. It’s starting to snub its own nature, the “panem et circenses” (bread and games) -style of old. No one makes an effort to win over the crowd any more, to make them cry out with joy or pain. Now, we’re contented with the score and titles. It’s like today’s rock concerts: they can fill a stadium but there’s no emotion in it.

The Frenchmen, a bad-tempered Italian and a cousin to the Teutons.

While this final stage was the most brilliant for the French team, in comparison to their other matches during the competition, it was executed without any big surprises, without theatrical passion or very Latin creativity. After all, this was the sort of World Cup final that is often painful, cold and laborious. It was a final in the land of the Tsars with little brilliance. An insipid affair that lacked genius and inspiration, a match that was too tactical, scientific, almost Teutonic. The magic of football’s glory days was missing. And were it not for the last 20 splendid minutes, we would probably have ended with a deadly sequence of penalty shoot-outs – the only true Russian roulette for players, trainers and fans to end it all.

The French played like Germans with their formidable sang-froid. They were stoic, stiff and heavy like the lead figures in table football. The beauty of the game just wasn’t there, but the score was confirmed and irrevocable. And maybe that’s the one thing we could fault this sport for at its highest tier of competition: it’s become too cut and dried, too calculated, too predictable. It’s starting to snub its own nature, the “panem et circenses” (bread and games) -style of old. No one makes an effort to win over the crowd any more, to make them cry out with joy or pain. Now, we’re contented with the score and titles. It’s like today’s rock concerts: they can fill a stadium but there’s no emotion in it.

Gallic Latin antics are no more.

With that said, more than any other team in the tournament, the Croatians had one of the biggest moments in their sporting history. We almost envy them this loss, at least all the emotional swings they must have felt with the rapid ascents to dizzying heights. The Croatians, more than the French, had both the fervent desire to pull off this victory at all costs and the immense hope of success, all the way to the end. In those sacred moments of national unity, no one will forget the inexpressible minutes of liberating happiness shared by every individual drawn together in shared triumph. Yet on the Champs Élysées last night, there were many faces that only seemed to mimic happiness.

The Croatians, more than the French, had both the fervent desire to pull off this victory at all costs and the immense hope of success, all the way to the end.

Header!

And, just as an aside, we might even acknowledge to ourselves that it was the outsiders, the underdogs, who won the only true victory at this 2018 Cup, those smaller teams that sent the favourites back to the lockers. We watched these great international football legends, tired from exhausting seasons of choreographed, overtaxing European tournaments, head home with head in hands carrying the ball on their back like a homeless man’s bundle.

In this sport more than any other, it seems all the amazing options have been explored and that there is nothing but the World Cup, with its sometimes unhappy surprises, that still makes us tremble with delight. But enough of this tiresome whining, these silly lamentations from a poor casualty of ’82. France won with their heads held high (with a little help from some other heads too), so we say поздравления to the entire team. End of story. Full stop.

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