France 4-2 Croatia
15 July 2018
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
World Cup Final
Scorers: Mandzukic (OG), Griezmann (pen), Pogba, Mbappe (France); Perisic, Mandzukic (Croatia)

And so the UFWC title arrived at the 2018 FIFA World Cup final in the hands of reigning Unofficial Football World Champions Croatia, who faced challengers France. This was the tenth time the UFWC title had been contested at the WC final, and the 17th time the UFWC and FIFA title had been “unified”. So the winner of the World Cup final, either France or Croatia, could claim to be the undisputed official FIFA and unofficial UFWC football world champions.

Croatia had held the UFWC title since beating Denmark in the round of 16 via a penalty shoot-out. They then beat Russia in the quarter finals – again on penalties – then beat England 2-1 after extra time. It had been a tough run of extended-play games, but rather than tire Croatia seemed to have found an extra gear, led by the brilliant Luka Modric, supported more than ably by Ivans Rakitic and Perisic, with the redoubtable Mario Mandzukic up front.

France had also had a tough run to the final, seeing off Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium to deservedly reach football’s ultimate match. Captain Hugo Lloris had been inspirational in goal, with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane brilliant in defence. Paul Pogba had silenced more than a few doubters with a seemingly new-found maturity in midfield. And up front the excellent Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud had been outshone by 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe – arguably, along with Modric, the tournament’s best player.

Croatia were the best team in the first half, yet they went into the interval behind. France took the lead on 18 minutes after Griezmann won a dubious free kick, then lofted the ball into the net off the head of the unlucky Mandzukic. Ten minutes later, Perisic capped a brilliant tournament with a great goal, latching onto a lay-off to rifle home with his left foot.

But ten minutes after that, in the 38th minute, Perisic was penalised after Blaise Matuidi’s flicked header from a corner struck his lower arm. Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana initially waved play-on, but was then advised to check the VAR system. The ball had struck him from close range, and Perisic’s hand appeared to be returning to its natural position after his leap. Pitana’s lengthy VAR consultation suggested anything but a clear and obvious error had been made. However, he overturned his initial decision and awarded a penalty, which Griezmann calmly dispatched. France had managed one shot on target in the first half, yet they led 2-1.

But if France were lucky in the first half, they were brilliant in the second. In the 59th minutes, the brilliant Pogba got his reward for a marvellous tournament when his placed left-foot shot from outside the area hit the back of the net. Five minutes later, Mbappe got in on the act, with another shot from outside the box, struck low and hard with his right foot. 4-1 to France, and surely it was all over.

But brave Croatia never gave up, and Mandzukic was at least able to cancel out his own goal when Lloris bizarrely switched off and played the ball off the Croatian striker and into the back of the net. But there were no more goals, and France, 4-2 victors, won the World Cup and the UFWC title, unifying the FIFA and UFWC titles, and becoming the undisputed official and unofficial football world champions.

Deschamps, only the third man to have won the World Cup as a player and as a manager, was hoisted into the air by his players. And, amid a torrential downpour, Lloris lifted the World Cup trophy. Mbappe was named FIFA’s young player of the tournament, while Modric won the Golden Ball as overall best player.

This was France’s 26th UFWC title match win, and it moves them into the all-time ranking top 10. Most notably, it was the third time France have won the “undisputed” title. They did this at the 1998 World Cup final, when they beat UFWC champions Brazil. Then they regained the unofficial title, while still official champions, at the Euro 2000 final when they beat Italy to unify the UFWC, FIFA and UEFA titles. Didier Deschamps captained his country to both those victories, so has been involved in all three undisputed wins. The updated list of undisputed champions is as follows:

Undisputed UFWC and WC champions:
Italy 1939, 1982, 2007
Uruguay 1954
Germany 1958*, 1974*, 2014
Brazil 1958, 1998, 1998**
England 1966
Argentina 1978, 1986
France 1998, 2000, 2018
Spain 2010

*As West Germany
**Brazil lost and regained the undisputed title in 1998

The great thing about the UFWC is that we don’t have to wait four years for the next final. In fact, we only have to wait six weeks. The next UFWC title match is a UEFA Nations League match – in fact the very first UEFA Nations League match – between France and Germany in Munich on 6 September. Whoever wins that will be the unofficial football world champion (although of course, whatever the result, France will remain official champion until Qatar 2022).

You can keep up to date with all things UFWC by following us on Twitter or Facebook. If you’re new to the UFWC you can read more here, or check out the brand new UFWC book.

New for 2018,the latest edition of the official UFWC book, Unofficial Football World Champions.
 
This is the fourth edition of the book that has been published in every World Cup year since 2006. Expanded and updated to include new matches, teams, players and statistics, it’s a complete guide to the UFWC, including all 936 title matches played since 1872, and all 48 unofficial football world champions.
 
It’s available exclusively from Amazon stores worldwide, priced at £9.99 or $13.95 – click here.
 

About Paul Brown

Paul is a freelance journalist and author. He created the UFWC in 2003, and subsequently wrote the Unofficial Football World Champions book. He can be found on Twitter @paulbrownUK.