It may have been difficult for soccer fans to get a sense of how palpable the energy was surrounding the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals match, but the French people were out in full force watching the game and celebrating as France won its second ever World Cup title by defeating Croatia 4-2.
Fans in the United States were some 5,500 miles away from the championship, which was held in the host country of Russia. And while French fans were much closer to the action, a University of New Mexico student and Daily Lobo sports reporter was in France during the title match and shared his experience during the clinching match.
Matthieu Cartron, who primarily covers UNM men's tennis and women's soccer, was in France visiting family for the summer and explained how events unfolded in the town of La Flotte on "Île de Ré", an island off the west coast of France.
He said he thought the general belief was that if France played the way it had throughout the tournament, the team would pick up the victory, but his family and many other fans were all tense — especially in the early going.
Cartron's home team struck first, benefiting from an own goal after France was awarded a free kick. France forward Antoine Griezmann uncorked a shot that was redirected off the head of Croatia's Mario Mandžukić and into the net, giving the French a 1-0 lead.
That helped calm the nerves among fans watching the match, according to Cartron. He said the own-goal was against the run of the play, but everyone celebrated wildly as France took the lead.
Cartron said he believed Croatia was actually the stronger team in the first half, and Croatia found the equalizer in the 28th minute as Ivan Perišić rifled a shot off his left foot, guiding the ball past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper.
But Croatia found more bad luck later in the first half, as replay officials called Perišić for a handball and awarded France a penalty. Griezmann converted on the scoring opportunity and put France back on top 2-1 in the 38th minute.
And despite perhaps playing better in the first half, the Croatian team found itself trailing by that same score as squads went into halftime, even though Croatia had only allowed one shot on target to that point.
France put the pressure on by scoring a pair of goals about midway through the half, separated by about six minutes.
Paul Pogba received a pass from Griezmann and fired a shot off his right foot. It was blocked, but the ball found its way right back to Pogba, who used his left foot to curve the ball around defenders and a seemingly flat-footed Danijel Subašić for a 3-1 advantage.
In the 65th minute, the French took a commanding lead as 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappé came up big, scoring from distance to beat Subašić again and give his team a 4-1 edge.
Cartron said the World Cup moment that stood out the most for him was seeing Mbappé shake hands with French President Emmanuel Macron as he received the "young player of the tournament" award.
"He's announced himself onto the world stage and — at the age of 19 — is playing like one of the top players in the world," Cartron said. "People have wondered who might inherit the legacy that (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo leave — and I think we now know."
Cartron said a three-goal deficit is something that is extremely difficult to overcome, and the realization started to set in that France may have had things wrapped up and were on its way to victory.
But things took a turn as Croatia finally caught a break in the match just a few minutes later when France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made a critical error. Mandžukić was able to collect a goal as Lloris was unsuccessful when he gave the ball right back to the Croatian forward on a back pass.
Mandžukić stuck his foot out and was able to deflect the ball past the keeper to cut the deficit to 4-2 as Lloris put his hands over his head in apparent disbelief.
Croatia was never able to pull any closer, though, as France held on for the victory and hoisted the World Cup trophy. The French were victorious despite being out shot by a 2-to-1 ratio, thanks to some fortuitous events such as the own-goal and the penalty kick following the handball.
Carton said France was devastated following a loss to Portugal in the UEFA Euro 2016 Finals, but called on that past experience to remain focused and ultimately deliver when the time came.
France emerged as World Cup champions for the second time in the country's history — also winning in 1998 as the host nation.
Robert Maler is the sport’s editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and football and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.