KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW: Didier Deschamps identified France’s quarter-final victory over Argentina as the defining moment when his young players came of age in the World Cup they went on to win with a 4-2 final defeat here of Croatia.

The French coach conceded that his teanm struggled through the group phase, in particular in the 1-0 win over Peru, and were then off-key in the concluding group game against Denmark, the only goalless draw of the tournament.

After that match Deschamps promised that his team would “start to climb” because, as he explained in the euphoria of his own second personal World Cup triumph, “the group stage and the knockout are totally different events, demanding a totally different approach.”

He said: “When we had to play Argentina, a great football nation with Lionel Messi, we changed a couple of things and then the team came through [winning 4-3] because they showed they are warriors. With this state of mind any team is able to climb mountains.

“There was so much euphoria after that win and, luckily, we had enough sense to appreciate it and then come back to reality or we could have been beaten in our next game against Uruguay. So this hunger grew progressively for us to want to reach the summit today.”

Victory in Russia contrasted sharply with events two years ago when Deschamps’s France lost the Euro 2016 to Portugal in front of their own fans in Paris. He had learned from that setback.

Deschamps said: “I’m always looking to do everything I to make the path as smooth as possible. Two years ago it was so very, very painful to waste this chance to be European champions but, maybe, if we had won then we would not be world champions now.

“I gave too much emphasis to that match [in 2016] so we tried to stay more relaxed this time. It was enough that the players knew why they were there and had to get this World Cup star to wear on the jersey.”

Deschamps emphasised the importance of the correct mental and psychological approach.

Reviewing the overall French campaign, he said: “We didn’t do everything right but we have the mental qualities which were decisive for a tournament in which we saw that the teams who had the best technical skills did not have enough other qualities.

“The most important choices are made when we chose the 23 players. You need to find the balance on the pitch and the balance on a human level. We have spent 55 days together and there haven’t been any problems togther and this unity in all the staff is important.”

“I’ve been asked if France are ‘beautiful champions’ . . . well, we are on top of the world for the next four years, so that is what needs to be remembered.”

Deschamps knows all about being on top of the world after following up his World Cup-winning success as captain in 1998. He is one of only three men to have achieved the player/coach double after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer who he readily conceded to have been better players.

He said: “I had the immense privilege of living this triumph as a player 20 years ago and it was in France so it will be fixed in my memory forever but what the players did here is just as marvellous, just as strong.

“At the moment my players don’t really know what it means to be world champions. But these 23 players will be linked forever, whatever happens in their lives, thanks to this event and, from tonight on, they will not be the same because they will he world champions and, with respect to other titles, there is nothing in football above that.

“Of course it’s a great pleasure for me but I am much happier to see the happiness of my players. Kylian Mbappe is only 19 and I hope he will be a world champion again but one never knows; 20 years ago David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry were 19 but they didn’t become world champions again.”

No wonder Deschamps could look back on such an enjoyable experience.

He said: “It’s been a beautiful World Cup because, for one thing, our base camp was wonderful. It was a problem that there were some long distances but the tournament went really fast, a lot faster than four years ago even though we left the competition much earlier in Brazil.

“The Russians staging it with FIFA have done all they could so everything coud go well and in the end it was a beautiful football party. I would like to include the refereeing in that. VAR brought positive elements to a tournament which was a beautiful celebration of football and a great pleasure for which to be in Russia.”

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