France won the FIFA World Cup for the second time after a controversial penalty decision went its way in a tremendously entertaining 4-2 win over Croatia in Moscow on Monday morning (AEST).
In a final that had it all, including a series of tremendous goals, a pitch invasion and a ridiculous mistake from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) helped play a major role in the result.
With the score locked at 1-1 with seven minutes of the first half remaining, Ivan Perisic – who had earlier scored an incredible equaliser for Croatia – was harshly judged to have deliberately handled the ball inside the penalty area.
The decision only came after referee Nestor Pitana was urged to look at replays of the incident and the official took several minutes to make up his mind – hardly the “clear and obvious” error VAR is meant to stop.
But eventually Pitana pointed to the spot and Antoine Griezmann’s 38th-minute penalty changed the complexion of the match.
— SBS – The World Game (@TheWorldGame) July 15, 2018
Sensational long-distance goals from Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe followed as France took a 4-1 lead, meaning that Lloris’ howler, that let in Mario Manduzkic, was eventually no more than a blip on the goalkeeper’s impressive tournament.
But the sense of injustice was strong in many key football figures, with Australia star Tim Cahill taking to Twitter to announce Pitana “can’t give a penalty”.
“No way … how could Perisic move his arm?” he added.
Ex-Socceroos defender Ned Zelic said the decision was “a joke” while England legend Gary Lineker simply said “can’t give that”.
Others were in favour of the decision but it is sure to be a point of contention among Croatia fans for decades to come.
France made a pedestrian start, allowing Croatia to control the early stages, but it was Didier Deschamps’ side who took the early lead as Griezmann’s free-kick took a deflection off Mandzukic’s head and crept in.
The goal was cruel on Croatia, who, led by player of the tournament, Luka Modric, hit back strongly.
And Perisic levelled proceedings in the 28th minute, finishing a rehearsed set-piece with a brilliant left-foot strike that followed an equally good first touch.
Griezmann’s goal restored France’s lead but they were content to sit deep and attack on the counter, allowing Croatia to create chances and grow in confidence.
A failure to convert that possession into a second goal would cost Croatia, though, as Pogba struck.
The powerful midfielder reacted quickly to a blocked shot of his own, curling in a left-foot effort from 20 yards that left the unsighted goalkeeper Danijel Subasic with no chance.
Then it was Mbappe’s turn, the 19-year-old, who has been one of the stars of this tournament with his rapid pace and clever feet, firing a superb effort of his own past Subasic to effectively seal the contest.
Croatia would not say die, though, and Lloris was too relaxed on the ball in a casual attempt to knock the ball past the onrushing Mandzukic.
The striker made amends for his own goal by blocking Lloris’ pass into the net for the sixth goal of a crazy match after just 69 minutes.
Croatia showed the pluck and tenacity it has shown all tournament in search for a third goal but France soaked up the pressure effectively enough to win sport’s biggest prize for the first time since 1998.
France may have lost the Euro 2016 final on home soil to Portugal but this was more than redemption and relief. It was elation and pure joy, for Deschamps, a World Cup winner as a player 20 years ago, for Mbappe, the outstanding teen, and a delirious army of fans both in the Russian capital and back home.
Once again, France are champions of the world.
FIFA World Cup Official Awards:
Golden Ball (best player of the tournament)
1. Luka Modric (Croatia), 2. Eden Hazard (Belgium), 3. Antoine Griezmann (France)
Golden Boot (top scorer of the tournament)
1. Harry Kane (England), 2. Antoine Griezmann (France), 3. Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Golden Glove (goalkeeper of the tournament)
1. Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
Young Player Award (best young player of the tournament)
1. Kylian Mbappe (France)
Fair Play Award (fairest team of the tournament)