Entry to an exclusive club awaits Didier Deschamps.
Victory in Sunday’s final at Luzhniki Stadium will see him join Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer as the only figures in history to lift the World Cup as both player and head coach. Some achievement, even in a storied career that already makes him one of football’s most-decorated figures.
When Deschamps laid the platform for the incomparable Zinedine Zidane to down Brazil 20 years ago at a partisan Stade de France, murmurs of discontent about his approach were largely restricted to maverick former team-mate Eric Cantona and his indelible “water carrier” jibe.
Fast forward to the present and, well, expectations are somewhat different.
Rather than lining up alongside many of the globe’s great idols, he now manages them. With Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and L’enfant prodigue Kylian Mbappe, a significant – and sonorous – constituency in the French public and media demands bedazzling football.
Instead, we witness a star-studded team styled in the minimalist image of their leader. They suffocate, rather than shimmer.
From this viewpoint, Euro 2016’s 1-0 showpiece defeat to weakened Portugal acts as incontrovertible evidence of Deschamps’ ultimate futility as a leader.
A reversal suffered on home soil, watched – from the 25th-minute mark – by the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and won by underdogs let off the hook when they should have been euthanised.
Raw memories for Deschamps. But not ones that have deigned him to change tactics. The 49-year-old is not for turning. Not now, not on Sunday versus Croatia, not ever.
“I have carried a lot of water in my time,” he once remarked. “But those buckets have been filled with trophies.”
A stance that heaps pressure upon him – pressure that can only be relieved by generational success.
Deschamps is small in stature, but possesses shoulders broad enough to bear this burden. And all signs from a month of competition in Russia point to him engineering another landmark triumph.
Brazil, Spain, holders Germany, Argentina and Portugal have not lasted the pace. All must watch from home, including bitter semi-final victims Belgium.
“France heads a corner and does nothing more than defend,” defeated goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was quoted as saying by Sporza. “I would have preferred to have lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil, at least that was a team that wanted to play football. [France] are just an anti-football team.”
If the Portugal defeat two summers ago was the nadir, Tuesday’s 1-0 victory against Belgium acts as the zenith of Deschamps’ vision.
An imperious defensive structure shut down florid playmakers Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, constricting Romelu Lukaku – arguably the competition’s outstanding centre forward. Griezmann then supplied the corner that centre-back Samuel Umtiti flicked in for the only goal.
Vanquished Belgium’s tally of 14 goals is four more than their conquerors.
This was France’s leading fourth clean sheet in Russia. Only Argentina have scored against them in open play, during a 4-3 round of 16 result that acts as a statistical outlier.
Deschamps’ side have rarely moved out of second gear this summer.
They opened in Group C with a 2-1 win against Australia that included a controversial Griezmann penalty and an own goal. A cacophony of boos followed when they ended it versus Denmark with the tournament’s only goalless draw to date.
Centre-backs Umtiti and Raphael Varane have got the breakthrough in their last two knockout ties. In contrast, centre forward Olivier Giroud is yet to have a shot on target from six run-outs.
Frustratingly for Deschamps’ detractors, three goals in nine second-half minutes followed when Argentina went 2-1 up. An alluring image of what could be.
But those rallying against the France supremo are ignorant of history – both his own and the World Cup’s.
Raymond Goethals at Marseille was a believer in sound defensive tactics. Together, they would win the 1992/93 Champions League and two Ligue 1s.
Deschamps claimed nine trophies under Marcello Lippi at Juventus, a head coach who argued: “A group of the best players do not necessarily make for the best team.”
This ethos rings true of a man who continues to promote Giroud, while ignoring the claims of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema.
The recent history of the World Cup has also rarely rewarded entertainers.
Carlos Alberto Parreira’s 1994 champions with Brazil have gone unloved, while Aime Jacquet’s 1998 squad grew into the competition four years later.
Lippi’s Italy in 2006 were lauded for their durability and warrior spirit. In 2010, Vincente Del Bosque’s Spain won every match 1-0 from the round of 16 to the final.
In 2018, Deschamps’ name should be added to this list.
Mario Mandzukic was the hero in extra time as Croatia came back from behind to earn a first spot in a major final, at England’s expense.
Right-back Kieran Trippier rocketed in a fifth-minute free-kick in the World Cup semi-final, with Tottenham team-mate Harry Kane soon failing to double the lead. These misses – in the Three Lions’ first last-four clash in the global event since 1990 – came back to hurt them in the second half at Luzhniki Stadium.
Winger Ivan Perisic volleyed in the 68th-minute leveller, via a potential high foot. Then in extra-time, veteran striker Mandzukic took advantage of centre-back John Stones’ woeful marking to see Croatia go one better than their ‘Golden Generation’ twenty years ago in France.
Danijel Subasic – 8: An excellent tournament for the Monaco goalkeeper continued. Highlight was the first-half save and remarkable recovery to deny Kane.
Sime Vrsaljko – 8: Croatia were grateful that he recovered, miraculously, from injury. Teed up Perisic’s equaliser and headed off the line from Stones.
Dejan Lovren – 6: Lucky not to get booked and appeared a ticking time bomb. But did superbly to deny nemesis Kane a close-range header.
Domagoj Vida – 6: Booed relentlessly by the Russians in the crowds after his pro-Ukraine remarks. Initially troubled by Raheem Sterling’s pace, then recovered.
Ivan Strinic – 5: Pegged back by the endeavour of England’s goal scorer, Trippier. Did not look assured in, or out, of possession. Injured late on.
Marcelo Brozovic – 7: Early influence on proceedings was negated by England’s route-one tactics. But the Internazionale anchor’s ability would tell past 60 minutes.
Ante Rebic – 5: Fired in several wild shots and could do nothing with the rebound when Perisic’s second-half shot hit the woodwork.
Luka Modric – 8: Grew in authority at the Luzhniki Stadium. Had the third-highest pass accuracy for Croatia. This was a telling statistic as Croatia rebounded.
Ivan Rakitic – 7: Produced a surprising number of loose balls in the first half. Emerged a different, more authoritative figure after the break. A fine player.
Ivan Perisic – 8: Anticipation for volley was fantastic, soon after struck the post and then supplied the perfect cross for Mandzukic which should have led to another.
Mario Mandzukic – 8: Laudable energy levels. A third-successive extra-time period saw him only just denied by Pickford and then, decisively, smash in from close range.
Josip Pivaric – 6: Like-for-like replacement for the lame Strinic. Missed in shootout against Denmark and would have been relieved not to go again.
Andrej Kramaric – 5: Leicester City flop could not punish the country in which he did so little. Made shocking decision to shoot.
Vedran Corluka – N/A: Experience made sure Croatia held firm in the final throes.
Milan Badelj – N/A: Last-gasp handball was not punished by England.
England suffered World Cup semi-final heartbreak as Croatia came from behind to win 2-1.
Right-back Kieran Trippier rocketed in a fifth-minute free-kick, with Tottenham team-mate Harry Kane soon failing to double the lead. These misses – in England’s first last-four clash in the global event since 1990 – came back to hurt the Three Lions in the second half at Luzhniki Stadium.
Winger Ivan Perisic volleyed in the 68th-minute leveller, via a potential high foot. Then in extra-time, veteran striker Mario Mandzukic took advantage of centre-back John Stones’ woeful marking to lash Croatia into their first major final.
Jordan Pickford – 6: Performance mirrored that of the team. Dominated in first half and skittish after break. Redeemed himself with tremendous Mandzukic stop.
Kyle Walker – 5: Silly yellow card for time wasting and then his defensive instincts were questionable for leveller. A recurring theme in Russia.
John Stones – 5: Almost gifted Perisic his second goal. Punishment soon followed when he critically lost Mandzukic. Earlier header was cleared off the line.
Harry Maguire – 6: Can count himself very lucky that neither VAR or the on-field officials punished his first-half injury-time tug on Dejan Lovren.
Jordan Henderson – 5: A nagging hamstring complaint saw Henderson’s influence diminish. Did not have physicality to try and put his foot on the ball after break.
Kieran Trippier – 6: Should have been the hero after beautiful fifth-minute free-kick. Errors soon crept in, however, especially when ignoring Perisic’s run.
Jesse Lingard – 5: Was in the team to create and did not do this. Further tasked with using energy to disrupt Croatia and also failed.
Dele Alli – 5: Contributed to second-half surrender, despite earlier winning free-kick for goal. Deep role, like at Euro 2016, did not suit him.
Ashley Young – 5: A fifth start of the tournament proved a bridge too far for the Three Lions veteran. Removed for Danny Rose.
Harry Kane – 5: Unbelievably spurned two golden quick-fire efforts in first half. Then dropped far too deep in a harmful and misguided attempt to dominate proceedings.
Raheem Sterling – 7: Was liveliest player for England and it was a surprise when he was hooked. Still, however, goalless in Russia.
18 - Only one of the previous 18 teams to be ahead at half-time in a World Cup semi-final have failed to go on and win (Italy in 1990 v Argentina, who lost on penalties). Resolve. #ENGCRO #ENG #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/CkO7T5Q3sl— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 11, 2018
Marcus Rashford – 6: Showed willingness, yet the big chance didn’t come his way.
Danny Rose – 7: Made several driving runs and probably should have started this match.
Eric Dier – 6: The penalty hero from Colombia didn’t get chance to make history repeat itself.
Jamie Vardy – N/A: Leicester City man barely touched the ball and came on after Trippier’s injury, leaving England with 10 men.