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Young, joyful France beats Croatia 4-2 to win 2nd World Cup
By GRAHAM DUNBAR
MOSCOW (AP) Taking turns sliding across the rain-soaked turf holding the World Cup trophy tight, teenager Kylian Mbappe and the rest of France's players acted like the youthful bunch they are.
Nothing, not a Pussy Riot protest nor a postgame downpour that soaked Russian President Vladimir Putin, was going to stop the party.
It carried on long after a thrilling 4-2 win over Croatia on Sunday. In the locker room with French President Emmanuel Macron striking poses with players, then a champagne-spraying, water-splashing interruption of the coach Didier Deschamps' news conference.
"Sorry! They're young and they're happy," said Deschamps, like a proud father.
Deschamps had good reason to indulge them. His team is mostly aged 25 or under and can return almost intact to defend their title in 2022 in Qatar.
"Our children are going to be very proud," forward Antoine Griezmann said. "The World Cup, it's a lot."
The 19-year-old Mbappe became only the second teen after Pele to score in a World Cup final.
Mbappe had just shown his electrifying speed in the 52nd minute when play was held up by four protesters who ran onto the field. Russian punk band Pussy Riot later took credit for the incident - watched from the VIP seats by Putin, whose government once jailed members of the activist group. Charges were filed against the group Sunday, too.
Putin was later on the field to award medals to the players in a ceremony soon drenched in rain and joy. As thunder pealed and lightning cracked, FIFA president Gianni Infantino handed France captain Hugo Lloris the gold World Cup trophy.
Gold confetti stuck to the soaked Les Bleus as they paraded the trophy around the Luzhniki Stadium, a final act of an enthralling tournament in which Croatia reached its first final while powers Brazil, Germany and Argentina went home early.
About 12 minutes after a protester gave Mbappe a double high-five on the field, Mbappe sent a right-footed shot from 25 yards (meters) past goalkeeper Danijel Subasic . The goal put France up 4-1, closing the door on Croatia who had been the better team until Mbappe took control.
The only other teen to score in a World Cup final was Pele, who was 17 when Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in 1958.
Mbappe, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain in the French league, was born months after France won its only other World Cup title in 1998.
"I have a whole story to write," Mbappe said. "This is just the beginning."
Paul Pogba and Griezmann, France's two other key creative players, also scored. Pogba played a disciplined role in Russia, but his natural joy was evident celebrating his 18-yard (meter) shot, and leading the champagne shower for Deschamps.
But it was Mbappe who put the match out of reach with a furious passage of play in the second half. In the 59th, a run from Mbappe started a play that ended up with Pogba on the edge of the penalty area. With his second attempt, the midfielder curled his shot beyond Subasic.
Griezmann scored from the penalty spot in the 38th minute fully four minutes after his corner kick was knocked out of play by Ivan Perisic's arm. The referee ruled it handball only after a video review, just as the first thunders claps boomed around the stadium.
"In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty," Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said.
France took the lead in the 18th when Croatia's tallest outfield player, 1.90-meter (6-foot-3) forward Mario Mandzukic, rose to meet Griezmann's free kick with the top of his head. He deflected it past his own goalkeeper.
Perisic and Mandzukic both scored for Croatia, first to equalize in the 28th minute and later as a consolation goal in the 69th, embarrassing Lloris with a flicked shot as the France goalkeeper tried to dribble the ball out of his goalmouth.
But the three-goal lead was too much for the red-and-white-checkered squad that made a habit of coming back at the World Cup - and played three straight 120-minute games before the final.
"We were dominant, we had control," Dalic said through a translator. "What we've had in terms of luck over the tournament, we lacked that today."
Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and a coach. He joined Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer, who captained West Germany.
France's captain 20 years ago, Deschamps was lifted up by his players on the field and flung into the air several teams and caught. The normally staid coach did a few skipping dance steps in the rain before stopping and laughing at himself.
It was that kind of unbridled evening for the French who won with an exuberance not often seen in a mostly efficient, controlled title run.
Back home in France, tens of thousands of fans headed to the Eiffel Tower to watch a broadcast on giant screens that Paris police closed the area more than two hours before kickoff.
Two years ago at home, France flopped in a European Championship final it was expected to win against Portugal.
"But maybe if we had been European champions we would not be champions today," Deschamps said.
Putin watched the game in a VIP section with the presidents of France and Croatia, Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Macron paced nervously out of his seat during the video review, and kissed his Croatian counterpart on both cheeks to console her after the game. They joined the medal ceremony and both kissed the gold trophy before it got to Lloris.
The two previous finals were 0-0 after 90 minutes before being settled with a single goal deep into extra time.
Three goals in the first half was the most prolific since 1974, when West Germany went into the break up 2-1 against the Netherlands. That was the final score.
The six-goal final was the most since England beat West Germany 4-2 in 1966. It also ensured the 2018 World Cup had only one scoreless game, when France last played at Luzhniki Stadium against Denmark.
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Updated July 15, 2018