Will the real ‘golden generation’ please stand up? The greatest World Cup in modern history has been chock-full of ‘golden generations.’
The birthplace of soccer showed that they are in the beginning of their own ‘golden generation’ en route to England’s third-best showing in fifteen World Cup appearances.
Belgian and Croatian teams, led by once-in-a-generation talents, have scratched and clawed, battling for international glory in what has felt like ‘last hoorahs.’
France, having already been witness to a ‘golden generation’ that delivered a 1998 World Cup, a Euro 2000 championship and a second-place finish in the 2006 World Cup, very well may be in the early stages of developing international football’s most talented (and potentially most successful) team ever.
At 19 years of age, wonderkid-superstar hybrid Kylian Mbappé is the world’s second-most expensive athlete to ever suit up for Les Bleus. Young phenoms like Thomas Lemar, Corentin Tolisso and Ousmane Dembélé have struggled for significant playing time due to the overwhelming talent of France’s starting eleven. Paul Pogba, already one of the world’s best midfielders, is only 25, while the entirety of the starting back line –- spearheaded by Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane –- is 25 or younger.
France, who are already slated to appear in Sunday’s World Cup final after not losing a single match in the tournament, only have room to grow.
Kylian Mbappé, Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba are already clear-cut superstars who can hit another level of play, and the rest of the squad is overflowing with youth begging their superstar potential to break through.
As for the most technically gifted Croatian team in history (a history that dates back just 20 years to 1998, when the country broke off from Yugoslavia), this World Cup was their final opportunity to escape the shadow of the beloved ’98 Croatian semi-final team (that coincidentally, was eliminated by France). Thanks to a man named Luka Modric and a series of extra time heroics, the Vatreni have fit the magic slipper in Russia 2018.
Croatia took the world by storm with a thorough 3-0 dismantling of then-favorites Argentina in the group stages. They went on to win all three games in the group stages, but that doesn’t begin to touch the madness of their knockout stage run.
In the knockouts, the Vatreni have won all three games in added time, including two that went to penalty kicks. Croatia have appeared ready to physically break at each new straining interval, but they haven’t. In fact, they’ve gotten better, finding that championship mettle when times get physically tougher.
Croatia should have been out of gas against England in the semifinals, but instead, they launched themselves into a new gear to dominate the second half of the match – and secure their first ever World Cup Finals appearance.
This team has already etched out their own spot in Croatian lore, despite a group of Croatians tossing flares onto the pitch during the 2016 European Championship to protest and embarrass their national federation, finally stepping out of the shadow of the fabled 1998 Croatian ken dolls — a group that made the semifinals in their first-ever World Cup.
But for Croatia’s latest golden generation to get their crown, a generation whose best player, Luka Modric, has been marred in controversy, they have to overcome a behemoth — a true dynastic power that looks to be ready to make its first real stamp on the international soccer world.
Just two years ago, Les Bleus nearly broke through, losing in the finals of the European Championship to Portugal. Now, France have a different feel about them: it hasn’t always been pretty, but each time they’ve won, survived and advance.
Their stars have had breathtaking moments — whether it be Paul Pogba or N’golo Kanté leaving the opposition dazed and confused, Kylian Mbappé using his world-class pace and technical ability to leave opposing defenses (and the managers responsible for their defensive tactics) shaking their heads in disbelief, or Raphaël Varane taking Romelu Lukaku, who had lit up the 2018 World Cup for Belgium, entirely out of a game with his defensive prowess.
France have done everything that once-in-a-generation champions are supposed to do — now all they have to do is write the final chapter and claim their golden crown.
Kylian Mbappé is donating his 2018 FIFA World Cup match salary to charity.