2. Team spirit
“The World Cup does not respect talent, only teams,” declared Belgium coach Roberto Martinez ahead of his side’s semi-final defeat to Les Bleus. Didier Deschamps’ men are an object lesson in togetherness.
Firstly, at the footballing level: every player can make a decisive contribution or score a crucial goal. The proof is there to be seen in the profiles of their goalscorers since the start of the knockout rounds: defenders, midfielders and forwards have all risen to the occasion.
Secondly, at the human level: as demonstrated by a squad whose substitutes flock as one to celebrate goals with their team-mates on the field of play, the only star in this team is France itself. They have been transformed from a collection of individuals into a close-knit group. From the third-choice goalkeeper to the head of security, from the starting player to the assistant coach, everyone is 100 per cent involved and committed to the team’s mission. It is the mark of a team capable of going the distance.
Twenty years after their first and only world title, the French are on the verge of repeating the trick. It is symbolic that the team standing in their way should be Croatia, still seeking revenge for a semi-final defeat during that triumphant campaign in 1998. If France were to win on Sunday, Didier Deschamps would become only the third man after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer to win the world title both as a player and as a coach.
All the ingredients for a fairytale ending are in place, and the planets seem to be aligned: 2018 will be the year of the second blue dream.