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France Defeats Croatia: A Recap Of The 2018 World Cup


And it's done. But what a finish for this year's World Cup. By now, you probably know that France beat Croatia 4-2, becoming two-time World Cup champions. But we just cannot let this World Cup go without one more visit with our friend Roger Bennett. He's one of the "Men In Blazers." He's host of the podcast "American Fiasco." And he's with us now, as he's been so many World Cup weekends via Skype, to help us wrap up this experience.

Rog, welcome back.

ROGER BENNETT, BYLINE: Double-M, it's a joy to be with you.

MARTIN: Well, you've said before that this has been the best World Cup of your lifetime. What did you think about the final today?

BENNETT: We were given a final which was a fitting finale. Normally, World Cup finals are anticlimactic but not this one. France won their second World Cup title in the highest-scoring final since 1966. And again, had it all - Croatian endeavor and tenacity, French intelligence and rippled muscle, controversial refereeing decisions, even a second-half, on-the-field protest from the incredibly brave Pussy Riot. But ultimately, the French earned it.

MARTIN: We've talked about Kylian Mbappe, the 19-year-old French player who's had some of the most impressive moments of this World Cup. France's final goal today put them out of Croatia's reach. Is he now the man? Is he the star?

BENNETT: He is two years away from being able to buy a drink in the United States, but he's now a World Cup champion. And his goal was a fitting exclamation point on this French campaign. I've got to say their success was one in which a World Cup all of the big stars failed - Messi failed, Ronaldo, Mo Salah. And this French team - there's so many stars on them, including Kylian Mbappe and the great Paul Pogba who scored today. But they all subsumed their egos to play as a true collective, and that's what led to French glory.

MARTIN: I do have to say the French team is full of young, diverse talent. This is a week in which President Trump said that Europe is losing its culture to immigrants. And one cannot help but notice that this team - the French team, the winning team - is full of people with immigrant backgrounds.

BENNETT: Yeah, it's an amazing achievement when you set it against the backdrop of the geopolitical uncertainty in Europe. Sixteen of the 23 players on that French squad come from families who've recently immigrated into the country, most of them from Africa. Seven of them are Muslim. They will very much be seen as a statement about immigration enriching a nation's culture, and that will be the news story that will be seen all around the world - incredibly powerful and beautiful.

MARTIN: Well, Croatia has a lot to be proud of as well, too. I mean, a small country, a relatively new country on the world scene, and yet I think acquitted themselves very well.

BENNETT: They were phenomenal. They were led by a duo in midfield, Modric and Rakitic who played beautifully - like a Croatian Simon & Garfunkel playing with such harmony. They feel incredibly proud even in defeat. They gave the world a final in which they left with their head held high.

MARTIN: I do want to ask about whether there is any takeaway from this World Cup writ large about global soccer.

BENNETT: Yeah, this was a World Cup in which the teams that did well were playing for honor and the priceless opportunity to become national heroes. And it was humanly wonderful to watch. And I'll say the joy of a World Cup is matched only by the sadness of its ending. And it leaves us really like divers getting the bends. Just suddenly tomorrow, we have to face real life.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you what are we going to do? What are we going to do?

BENNETT: There's only 328 days until the Women's World Cup starts. And the good news - the United States are defending champions in that one. So roll on, U.S. Women's National Team.

MARTIN: All right, that's Roger Bennett, one of the "Men In Blazers" and co-author of "Encyclopedia Blazertannica."

Roger, I hope it won't be four years till we speak again. So - what? - 328 days, I guess.

BENNETT: Michel, courage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.