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MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - President Vladimir Putin said Russia could be “proud” of its hosting of the football World Cup, judging it a success “in every respect” after Sunday night’s final. “We can surely be proud of how we organised this tournament,” Putin said in televised comments after France’s victory against Croatia.

“We have made this grand event a success in every respect,” he added.

“We have done it for our supporters, for Russians who are passionate about sport and for all those who love sport across the world.”

Putin thanked the foreign fans who came to Russia for the tournament. Before it started a month ago, there had been concerns due to the memory of violence between Russian and English fans during the Euro 2016 tournament in France.

Fans at this World Cup however “showed that sport and football can manage not to divide people and not lead to fights and disputes, but unite people on the basis of common values,” Putin said.

“People tried to scare us by saying the English would come and commit hooliganism... But everyone behaved in a most exemplary manner.”

Putin said foreign visitors holding “fan ID” cards for the World Cup could have visa-free entry to Russia for the rest of 2018.

The fan IDs which permitted ticket-holders to enter Russia during the World Cup had initially been due to expire on July 25.

Now, “foreign supporters who currently have fan IDs will be able to benefit from multiple entries into the Russian Federation without a visa until the end of the year,” Putin said.

Despite high diplomatic tension between Moscow and the West, world football officials and personalities as well as world leaders have lined up to praise Russia’s hosting of the tournament.

Russian leaders revelled in last night’s dramatic match after French players lifted the trophy.

The game was watched by Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.

Putin said he had congratulated both leaders. “A score of 4-2 in a final — I can’t remember seeing a score like that and few people could,” Putin said.

“Both teams were magnificent... I am sure everyone liked the way they played, and so did I.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Instagram: “A marvellous final! France are champions. Russia has organised the best World Cup.”

The Russian foreign ministry congratulated France for its victory in an official tweet.

“Congratulations to the @FrenchTeam for their second title and thank you for this feast of football!” it wrote.

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic told his players they should be proud of their sensational World Cup run and their performance in the final Sunday night despite losing 4-2 to France at the Luzhniki Stadium.

The Croatia players were given a standing ovation by their fans after taking the game to the French for the entire 90 minutes, dominating much of the match but falling to an own goal, a penalty awarded by VAR and two second-half strikes.

The 51-year-old gathered his players in a circle on the pitch and told them they should in no way consider the defeat a failure.

“Of course, we are downcast, but I told them ‘hold your heads up high. You have no reason to feel dissatisfied, you have given your all and you have to be proud of your performances at this tournament’,” he told a news conference.


“‘Chin up lads, if somebody had offered us to be runners-up at the start of the tournament, that would have been fantastic’.

“‘Sometimes in football you lose, that’s football, but we were dignified in our victories and we must be dignified in defeat, we have to respect the scoreline,’ that was the message to my players.”

The Croatians had come back from a goal down in their previous three games, slogged their way through six periods of extra time and two penalty shootouts to get to the final — playing the equivalent of an entire match more than France.

They again came from behind last night when Ivan Perisic fired home an angled shot in the first half but they were 4-1 down when Mario Mandzukic punished a mistake by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the 69th minute to make amends for his early own goal.

Dalic thought the 18th minute own goal and the France penalty, awarded seven minutes before halftime for a Perisic handball after the referee viewed the TV footage, had been the turning points.

“I don’t talk about referees but let me say this one thing: In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty,” he said.

“But that in no way diminishes France’s win. Maybe we were a bit unlucky, in the first six games we were favoured by luck.

“It was maybe the best game we played in the tournament but... against a quality team like France, you cannot let in four goals.”

Dalic said he thought overall VAR was good for the game. “Don’t take this as me a saying something bad about the referee,” he added.

“I respect the referee, he made the decision he thought was right. On VAR, when it goes in your favour it’s good, when it goes against you it’s bad.”

Dalic, who took up the national team reins only nine months ago when it looked like Croatia might not qualify for the World Cup, said he was going to take some time to consider his future.

“It was beautiful working with the lads (but) I never make decisions overnight,” he said. “At this moment I’m not thinking about anything but getting safely home to Croatia.”

Dalic said the success of a team representing a country of only four million people showed what could be done with a dream and lots of hard work.

“I’m proud of my players, I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my country,” he concluded, leaving the press conference room to a round of applause.

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Not even the loudest of thunderclaps could shake Antoine Griezmann Sunday night, as the 27-year-old chose the World Cup final to live up to the star billing his talent has for so long promised.

Ignoring the crashing of the heavens, and a sea of angry, whistling fans, the Frenchman wrong-footed the goalkeeper and calmly stroked home the second of France’s goals in a breathtaking 4-2 win over Croatia.

Flashes of lightning followed which was fitting for a mercurial player at the centre of all French creativity whose sparks of inspiration helped illuminate an extraordinary final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

Griezmann set up France’s opener with a deftly-floated free kick, which was glanced into his own net by Croatia striker Mario Mandzukic, and he laid off a superbly weighted ball for Paul Pogba to rattle home France’s third at the second attempt.

It was also Griezmann’s corner which created the solitary goal in France’s semi-final victory over Belgium.

Yet remarkably, for a player courted by the world’s biggest clubs who won the golden boot at Euro 2016 and was voted that tournament’s best player, his only major team honour was a Europa League winners’ medal, won with Atletico Madrid this year.

No more. Last night Griezmann and his team mates produced a pulsating performance before falling to the ground, hugging and sobbing as world champions.

“I do not know where I am,” the stunned 27-year-old said while organisers hurried to set up the presentation stage on the pitch. “We cannot wait to lift the Cup and bring it back to France.”

While waiting for the presentation Griezmann burst into tears, seemingly as the enormity of his team’s achievement swept over him, and while a rainstorm soaked the Luzhniki arena, the player embraced French president Emmanuel Macron who kissed his forehead and clasped his shoulders.

Once the French had their hands on the coveted golden trophy, Griezmann grasped it and ran down to fans behind the goal to show them the World Cup, before skipping back along the side of the pitch holding it aloft.

And when he finally emerged from his on-pitch celebrations the tears had been replaced by a wide smile.

“Frankly I have not yet realised what we have done,” he grinned after being named man-of-the-match.

“The World Cup... it’s a lot... I am very proud of this team, the players, the coach, the staff. We were really a united group either on the bench or in the line-up. We did something incredible, we wrote history,” he said, downplaying his individual role.

But certainly it had been a virtuoso performance by a player of undoubted talent who finally answered his doubters on the game’s biggest stage.

He had stayed calm under pressure, unlocked the Croatian defence and been key to victory.

For now, though, he wanted to look forward. “Now we will party and then we will party with France and with all the French people,” he said, again breaking into an enormous grin.

“It is France we love. (We have) different origins but we are all united. We are many players with different backgrounds, but we have the same goal, we wear the same jersey, we work for each other.

And now they will party together. As world champions.

PARIS, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Congratulations rolled in from around the world for France’s football team Sunday night after their young side triumphed over Croatia 4-2 in an incredible World Cup final in Moscow.

Here are the most notable reactions so far:

France

French President Emmanuel Macron simply said “MERCI” (thank you) to the football team on Twitter after the match.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called the team “GIANTS”.

“Twenty years later, thank you Les Bleus for giving the dream to a new generation,” Griveaux tweeted, referring to the country’s only previous win in 1998.

France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “Bravo to the French team! It’s done!!!!! Bravo (coach) Didier Deschamps and all his players. HISTORIC!”

Croatia

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who wore the team’s jersey as he watched the match with fans in the capital Zagreb, said “these boys are world champions for us”.

“They taught us about heart and unity. We lived through a fantastic and unforgettable period for the whole of Croatia during this month. This is shining like gold,” he told local channel NOVA TV.

“The whole world knows now about our country. They (the team) can be an inspiration to us in all spheres of public life.”

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country could be “proud” of its hosting of the World Cup, judging it a success “in every respect”.

“We can surely be proud of how we organised this tournament,” Putin said in televised comments after the final.

“We have made this grand event a success in every respect,” he said, adding that foreign visitors holding “fan ID” cards for the World Cup could have visa-free entry to Russia for the rest of 2018.

“We have made this grand event a success in every respect.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Instagram: “A marvellous final! France are champions. Russia has organised the best World Cup.”

United States

US President Donald Trump quickly congratulated France and praised his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the eve of the Helsinki summit between the two leaders.

“Congratulations to France, who played extraordinary soccer, on winning the 2018 World Cup,” Trump tweeted.

“Additionally, congratulations to President Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup Tournament — one of the best ever!”

Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent his best wishes on Twitter in French as well as English.

“Congratulations Les Bleus! What a victory for France at the #WorldCupFinal. Great tournament and a great young team.”

He added: “Towel off and celebrate @EmmanuelMacron!” — in reference to the torrential rain that fell just after the match ended, as Macron was congratulating the team on the pitch.

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “Toutes mes felicitations” (all my congratulations) in French, her government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted.

“Congratulations to @equipedefrance for the World Cup title and second star after a great tournament — and great respect for #Croatia, a team that never gives up #FRACRO #WorldCupFinal2018”.

Spain

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted “Congratulations France!!”

“World champions in a thrilling and intense match with a great rival, Croatia.”

MOSCOW, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - France are world champions for a second time as Les Bleus ran wild while Croatia’s energy reserves ran dry to win a thrilling World Cup final 4-2 in Moscow Sunday night.

Didier Deschamps’s men also had luck on their side as they led 2-1 at half-time thanks to Mario Mandzukic’s own goal — the first ever in a World Cup final — and a controversial Antoine Griezmann penalty awarded by video assistant referee.

However, Croatia finally paid for their exertions in going to three periods of extra-time in defeating Denmark, Russia and England after the break as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe put France out of sight before a rare error from goalkeeper Hugo Lloris gifted Mandzukic a consolation goal.

Here, AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from the World Cup final:

French redemption

After blowing the final of Euro 2016 on home soil to Portugal, it did not matter how France got the job done, just that they brought the World Cup home.

Twenty years on from lifting the trophy as captain, Deschamps became just the third man to win the World Cup as a player and a coach.

On route to the final France had been largely efficient rather than enthralling. That was also the case for the first 45 minutes, with Griezmann’s penalty their first shot on goal.

However, two years ago France did not boast the pace of Mbappe.

The 19-year-old cut loose in the second period to confirm his status as the breakout star of the World Cup.

His run and cross helped set up Pogba before drilling his fourth goal of the tournament low past Danijel Subasic.

VAR cruel on Croatia

On the eve of the final, FIFA president Gianni Infantino hailed VAR a resounding success in the system’s first World Cup, but there are four million Croatians who would now strongly disagree.

France’s vital second goal came from a fiercely contested penalty call by Argentine referee Nestor Pitana for an Ivan Perisic handball.

Perisic had little time to react when Blaise Matuidi’s header skimmed off his arm. But Pitana overturned his initial call not to award the spot-kick and Griezmann sent Subasic the wrong way.

Croatia even had a case VAR should have intervened to rule out Mandzukic’s own goal as Pogba appeared to be standing in an offside position as Griezmann’s free-kick was swung into the box.

For the smallest country to reach the final for 68 years to lose out thanks to such a marginal call was cruel.

Griezmann delivers the goods

Griezmann did not shine as a goalscorer in Russia like he did in winning the Golden Boot at Euro 2016 from open play, but he made a telling contribution with the dead ball in a World Cup dominated by set-pieces.

The Atletico Madrid striker’s four goals came from three penalties and a goalkeeping error by Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera.

However, Griezmann’s wicked set-piece delivery that provoked Mandzukic to head into his own net also saw Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti open the scoring against Uruguay and Belgium in the previous two rounds.

Griezmann missed a penalty in the 2016 Champions League final, but this time he stayed cool to dispatch his spot-kick and also had a hand in teeing up Pogba for France’s third goal.

MOSCOW, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) -  France is the 2018 World Cup champion. A tournament full of surprises concluded with an expected result, as the heavily favored French national team beat Croatia 4–2 in Moscow on Sunday. France went into halftime with a 2–1 lead thanks to an own goal and a VAR-awarded penalty, but the champions’ talent proved undeniable as the game wore on.

Striker Kylian Mbappé wasn’t alive for France’s last World Cup triumph, in 1998, but the 19-year-old superstar made quite a mark on this year’s tournament. His blistering strike in the 65th minute gave France a 4–1 lead and helped put away a resilient Croatian team for good.

France led 2-1 at halftime after a Mario Mandzukic own goal and an Antoine Griezmann VAR penalty, with Ivan Perisic briefly bringing first-time finalists Croatia level.

Quickfire strikes by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe midway through the second half put France on course for the title but Mandzukic was gifted a goal by French keeper Hugo Lloris to set up a nervous last 20 minutes.

France, however, withstood a spirited Croatia assault to lift the trophy for the second time, following their success on home soil 20 years ago, and ensure there was no repeat of two years ago when they were beaten in the European Championship final by Portugal in Paris.

The victory means that Didier Deschamps, captain of the 1998 side, becomes the third man to win the World Cup as player and coach after Brazil's Mario Zagallo and Germany's Franz Beckenbauer.

It was the highest-scoring final since England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in 1966 and the highest in normal time since Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 60 years ago. The landmarks came thick and fast in the first half too.

Croatia had started full of energy but fell behind when Mandzukic, who scored the extra-time winner against England in the semi-final, became the first man to score an own goal in a World Cup final when a Griezmann free kick skidded in off his head in the 18th minute. It was the 12th own goal of the tournament.

That meant it was the fourth successive knockout game that Croatia had conceded first but Perisic, who got the equaliser against England, was on hand again to level the scores 10 minutes later, smashing in a low shot after Sime Vrsaljko had headed Luka Modric's free kick across the box.

But it was then Perisic's turn go from hero to zero when he flapped an arm at a corner and, after a VAR review, Argentine referee Nestor Pitana awarded the 28th penalty of the tournament, another record, which Griezmann stroked home in the 38th minute for his fourth goal of Russia 2018.

That made it the highest-scoring first half since 1974, when West Germany led the Netherlands 2-1 - also the final score then.

It was harsh on Croatia, who had made most of the running, and they were on top again after the break, continually winning their one-on-one duels in the air and in every tackle and forging forward in the French box with plenty of variety.

But France's defence, so impressive all tournament, held and they went 3-1 up on the hour as Mbappe and Griezmann combined to set up Pogba on the edge of the box. His right-footed shot was blocked but he coolly curved the rebound in with his left.

After three successive extra-time knockout games the chances of another Croatian comeback seemed slight but they looked dead and buried six minutes later. Lucas Hernandez tore down the left to set up Mbappe who drilled a low shot beyond keeper Danijel Subasic for the 19-year-old's fourth goal of the tournament.

An awful blunder by Lloris revived Croatia, as the French keeper tried to dribble around Mandzukic only for the striker to tap the ball straight into an unguarded net.

Croatia, beaten by the French in the semi-finals in their first World Cup appearance in 1998, continued to press but their energy was sapped and France safely held out for the victory.

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