LUSAIL, Qatar: Coming so close to winning the World Cup again made Sunday's final defeat by Argentina all the more difficult to swallow for coach Didier Deschamps as France ended up losing on penalties after staging an incredible comeback.
Les Bleus, bidding to become the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962, went through the opening hour like ghosts and fell 2-0 behind after Lionel Messi's penalty and Angel Di Maria's goal, before the unthinkable happened.
After Deschamps had made several changes, taking off Olivier Giroud, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernandez, France burst into life as Kylian Mbappe scored a penalty and a stunning volley within 97 seconds to level the scores.
Messi struck again in extra time, but so did Mbappe with another penalty to make it 3-3, only for Randal Kolo Muani to be denied by Emiliano Martinez in the dying seconds before France lost the shootout 4-2, becoming the first team to taste defeat in a World Cup final after scoring three goals.
"We came back from the brink, that's what gives us so many regrets," Deschamps, who guided France to the title in 2018, told a news conference.
"We've got a World Cup ball in the last minute but it was not meant to be. If we're 2-0 down and then we lose 3-0, it's different. You say 'bravo' t Argentina and that's it.
"I still congratulate them, they played a great game, with a bit of gamesmanship, but we were expecting that and it does not take any merit from their victory."
LACK OF AGGRESSION
France were hit by a virus during the lead-up to the final and appeared to lack their usual aggression in the first half.
"We did not have the energy we had in our previous games but I was not worried with any player who started the game tonight," Deschamps said.
"We were against a team who played a World Cup final while I had the feeling it was not our case."
Kolo Muani and Marcus Thuram came on in the 41st minute, before Eduardo Camavinga and Kingsley Coman entered the fray in the 71st.
"(For the first two changes) I could not wait until halftime. Ousmane and Olivier took us to the final but they were not as good today. When things don't work, you have to shake things up," said Deschamps.
"In the end, I'm very sad for my players, my staff."
Deschamps's contract expires at the end of the year but having reached the goal of making it to the last four, he must decide whether to extend it.
"I'm having a meeting with my president at the beginning of the year. Then, you'll know," said Deschamps, who has been in charge since 2012, reaching the Euro 2016 final, winning the 2018 World Cup, last year's Nations League and making it to the World Cup final again.
The coin could have flipped the other way, especially thanks to Mbappe's magnificent performance as he became the second player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.
"He wanted to make his mark on this World Cup. He did, but not as much as he wanted," Deschamps said. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)