Au revoir and spasibo for an unforgettable World Cup
MOSCOW — All I can say after this World Cup is spasibo, which is Russian for "thank you."
Or should it be merci?
France hoisted the World Cup trophy in front of 78,011 spectators at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, igniting mayhem in the streets of Paris and beyond with their 4-2 victory over Croatia, a country of four million plus people and less than a third the size of Ontario.
La Marseillaise was heard around Moscow, with jubilant supporters bellowing marchons, marchons with unbridled enthusiasm. In Paris, where they estimate more than one million revellers spilled onto the Champs Élysées, the party was a reunion of sorts for the 1998 World Cup champion team.
Coach Didier Deschamps, who anchored that squad, is just the third person to win a World Cup as a player and a coach. "My greatest joy and happiness is linked to theirs," Deschamps said. "They had to get that shiny star. I told them never give up, never give up, never give up."
Earlier in the tournament, Deschamps said he "believed this is a team that doesn't know its limits. They are growing and growing. I am here for the players. It belongs to the players."
Indeed it did with the tenacious play by man of the match Antoine Griezmann, who scored once and instigated two more. Rising teenage star Kylian Mbappé was muted most of game but when he was off and running, he netted one from outside the 18-yard box and recklessly unbalanced the Croatian side. He took home the FIFA Young Player Award.
The team is now $38 million US richer. They celebrated their triumphant win by sliding face first on a wet post match storm field that was littered with gold confetti.
"I don't realize what it is right now," Griezmann said after the match. "I'm really proud. We were a untied group. It's our strength. We marked history and now we are going to party and have pleasure with all the French people."
Croatia's valiant run ends
Croatia also won the hearts of football fans globally with their repeated overtime survival in three straight matches, but their stamina and grit was not enough to grind through the disciplined French defence, penalties, own goal, VAR and lethal counter-attacks.
"On our bus," said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, "we have a banner that reads 'Small Country Big Dreams,' we played well and we controlled the game but you can't win when you concede four goals."
While Croatia didn't win, they'll be remembered for beloved heroes like Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, a wizard in football cleats who took home the Golden Ball award for best player in the tournament. The tireless playmaker clocked over 60 kilometres on foot during this World Cup.
For a country still suffering the scars of war from its inception in the early 1990s, the march to the finals was a beacon of light amidst ongoing national scandals and corruption.
Assessing the tournament's legacy
Not that this tournament was without its uncomfortable moments.
The French thought they had the advantage of the 12th man, given Russian fans were still stewing over the two Croatians caught on video pledging their allegiance to Ukraine. This was a sensitive subject for Russians, and former player Ognjen Vukojevic was fired and sent home. Defender Domagoj Vida was repeatedly booed every time he touched the ball in the semis.
But the mass of red-and-white checkered Croatian supporters dominated the stadium and left the French supporters sounding like elevator music. And Croatian fans embarrassed by the controversy unveiled a massive "Spasibo" sign to the Russian people for their generous hospitality.
Now, with the World Cup trophy en route to the masses in Paris, it is time to start thinking about the legacy of this World Cup.
"I think a lot of preconceived opinions have changed thanks to this World Cup because everyone has seen the true nature of all the people here in Russia," FIFA president Gianni Infantino said.
"If football and the World Cup can open some channels to help those who take the important decisions for our world to start to speak to each other, then I think we have done something or given a contribution. Football cannot solve all the problems in the world, football cannot change the past, but it can have an impact on the future."