MOSCOW (TNS) — How else should one of the most wild, unpredictable and entertaining World Cups in recent memory end, but with one of the wildest, most unpredictable and entertaining finals in recent memory.
France and Croatia followed that script perfectly in a game that included an own goal, a penalty-kick goal, video replay and a goalkeeper gaffe that led directly to the final score. When the dust had settled France was the champion, winning 4-2 in the highest-scoring World Cup final since 1966.
It was also France's second title in 20 years.
France, which finished the tournament unbeaten, got goals from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe. It also benefited from an own goal by Croatia's Mario Mandzukic.
Croatia's scores were from Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic.
The last three World Cup finals were all conservative games decided in extra time or penalty kicks. Sunday's game broke from that tradition in a big way.
Croatia, which won three straight extra-time games to get to the final in Moscow, came out aggressively and were particularly effective sending Perisic up the left wing. But the first real scoring chance put France up 1-0 on an own goal by Mandzukic in the 18th minute.
A foul by Marcelo Brozovic on Griezmann deep in the Croatian end set up a free kick by Griezmann about 35 yards out and well to the right of the goal. The bending cross had a little too much on it and looked as if it would cause no damage when a leaping Mandzukic got just enough of it to redirect it past keeper Danijel Subasic for the 12th own goal of the tournament and the first ever in a World Cup final.
It was the earliest goal in a World Cup final since Zinedine Zidane scored for France on a penalty kick seven minutes into the 2006 title game. It also marked the fourth time in four knockout-stage games that Croatia has trailed.
But once again the deficit didn't last long, with Perisic tying the score in the 28th minute following a sequence that also began with a set piece.
After a long free kick to the right side of the penalty area, three Croatian players headed the ball around the box until it to fell to Perisic at the top of the area. He made a nice fake to escape the mark of France's N'Golo Kante. Perisic created space, then blasted a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner for his second goal in as many games.
Perisic gave the goal back 10 minutes later, though. Defending on a Griezmann corner kick, Perisic saw the ball skim the back of French midfielder Blaise Matuidi and hit him in the hand before striking him in the leg and going out of bounds.
Argentine official Nestor Pitana was screened on the play and didn't see it live but after consulting with the video assistant referees, he looked at a replay and awarded the penalty, which Griezmann converted for the 22nd penalty-kick goal of this World Cup.
Significantly the goal put France up at the half. The last team to lose a World Cup final while leading at the half was Argentina in 1930.
The three first-half goals — on an own goal, off a set piece and on a penalty kick — equaled the most for the first 45 minutes of a World Cup final since 1974. But neither team was done, with France doubling its score early in that second half on goals six minutes apart from Pogba and Mbappe.
On Pogba's goal, which came at the end of a breakaway, France worked the ball around the penalty area to get it to Greizmann but he had his back to the goal so he fed it out to Pogba at the top of the box. Pogba's first shot, a hard right-footed try, was blocked by a defender but it rebounded right back. Pogba took a step to his left to find an open lane and put a left-footed shot past a frozen Subasic.
Mbappe's goal was from a similar area following a brilliant solo effort from Lucas Hernandez to bring the ball up the field.
Croatia got back in the match briefly in the 69th minute on a bizarre goal by Mandzukic that came with a big assist from French keeper Hugo Lloris. Mandzukic hustled after a back pass from Samuel Umtiti and when Lloris used his first touch to try to step around the Croatian striker, he inadvertently put the ball on Mandzukic's right foot, giving him an easy shot for the score.