Fans follow the World Cup final in a cellphone, after the Civic Center big screen turned off in the final minutes of the game.

It went out with a bang, and the noise echoes on. Was this the best World Cup ever? The question will remain as long as soccer’s main event is celebrated every four years. The World Cup is not just the tournament itself — it’s where you were, geographically and in life. Neither of those seemed to bring the French to our month-long Mission District morning drinking extravaganza. So the Mission had to go find them.

Drinking they were, but mostly coffee and tea. It was a cold, windy morning at Civic Center Plaza; French territory, with a few scattered Croatian enclaves in the middle. The promised big screen was a tad small for the 2,000-strong crowd. The channel was the wrong one: Les Bleus‘ Mediterranean intensity is closer to Latin American insanity for all things fútbol, than to the waspy distance of Fox’s anchors. And we all deserve to hear Andrés Cantor’s never-ending “goooooooooolllllll” scream for our national team’s goals.

There were four for France, in a performance that redefined the term “luck of the champion.” By halftime, France was on top, 2-1 with only one shot: An own goal by Mandzukic, out of a set-piece that Antoine Griezmann originated with a dive. The other goal came off Griezmann’s penalty out of a very controversial handball by Perisic.

Outside the congregation of guttural r’s, all the praise was for Croatia, a team that has turned into a sort of European Uruguay. Stats can’t describe what you see: a generous squad playing at the edge of its physical and footballing capabilities, after three straight extra times that amounted to a full extra game over the past two weeks. Their pressure was so high and so fast that they practically nullified Kanté’s powers in the French midfield. Once they got the ball back, it was the Modric and Rakitic show, until Croatia began running out of oxygen. (About time…)

Deschamps, the ultimate pragmatist, had enough youth and depth to just wait it out. Led by the breakneck speed and smart positioning of teenager Kylian Mbappé, as well as the all-around efforts of Griezmann, France only went full-throttle midway through the second half, when they figured enough was enough. But their ceiling hasn’t been approached, and one can only imagine what a better coach would do with so much talent and overwhelming firepower at his disposal.

In a tournament of collective powers over the individual, it was the one team that gave the very least it could that earned a second star over its crest. But, as the commentators were wondering about the new era of soccer opening up, with Mbappé waxing and the aging Messi and Ronaldo waning, Croatia was still going at it. With 20 minutes left, Mandzukic caught a terrible clearance by Lloris and sent it to the net for 4-2.

By the end of regulation, only a miracle could have saved them, but Croatia is a team for the epilogues. The big screen turned off around minute 92, to the annoyance of dozens of bird-flippers. My sector crowded around a good citizen’s cellphone with the stream on, and the screen came back to life on time for the final whistle. Draped in French flags and vintage Zinedine Zidane jerseys, they could finally sing “on est champion” (“we are champions”) with peace of mind.

This World Cup may be the best one yet, but it came at a cost. We shall not forget how the right to host the World Cup was acquired by Russia, and the sports-washing ways of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Pussy Riot invaded the pitch to bring back attention to the crimes of the regime, and to remind us that no nation is free from such risks.

In a time of rising xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment, African and Muslim players delivered for France, a country that already gathered around its multicultural champion squad 20 years ago, only to let that moment go. Memory can be short if the moral of the story is not hammered home.

This World Cup is in the books, so, starting right now, we have four more years to ponder. What were we even doing 64 games ago? What have we learned?

We’ll meet again in four years to see where we are. It’s a long wait but, boy, isn’t it the sweetest thing?

Small altar to the gods of football set up at The Pork Store Cafe ahead of the final game. #blessed

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