KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- France are world champions for a second time after defeating Croatia 4-2 in the highest-scoring 90 minutes of the final since 1958. Didier Deschamps made personal history as only the third man to triumph as both player and coach.

However surprise outsiders Croatia will long believe that they were denied their just desserts by a controversial penalty decision which split observers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final even though it was decided after a historic first use of the VAR video screen.

France took an 18th-minute lead through a Mario Mandzukic own goal but Croatia levelled through Ivan Perisic (28) before France regained the lead after Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana awarded them a spotkick following a VAR check with his pitchside video screen.

Happiness is . . . winning the World Cup!

Griezmann converted the 36th-minute kick so France reclaimed a lead they never lost again before collecting the trophy in the thunderstorm which greeted the presentation of the cup from FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Controversy over the penalty will run on – especially in the Balkans. Opinions among observers were divided over whether Pitana should have awarded the penalty.

Croatia will always believe that, in restoring the French lead, it turned the occasion decisively against them, the surprise, unfashionable outsiders who had threatened the game’s establishment.

Further goals

France certainly took ruthless advantage. They went on to extend their control in the second half through Paul Pogba (59) and Kylian Mbappe (65) before an awful blunder by goalkeeper captain Hugo Lloris gifted Mandzukic a second for Croatia (69).

Deschamps thus became only the third man after Brazilian Mario Zagallo (1958 and 1962 then 1970) after German Franz Beckenbauer (1970 and 1990) to win the World Cup as both player and manager.

Les Bleus had set out as favourites to add a second round of glory their 1998 triumph. That had been secured with home advantage. Not this time against surprise challengers Croatia who had mobilised far more, and far noisier, supporters for the first final missing any member of the so-called Big Five: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino had exceeded hyperbole in describing the first finals on his watch as “the best World Cup ever” and as “fantastic, incredible, unbelievable.”

Certainly in organisational terms the finals in Russia had been the most smoothly efficient since Germany in 2006. But much rested on the final because this is the last image which remains alive when the rest of the finals have faded into here dusty statistics.

France and Croatia did not let the occasion down with a highly-competitive duel for the ultimate prize in the world game.

Casual start

Croatia were quicker into the stride with France too casual both in thought and in possession. The Croats’ commitment was illustrated by the sight of captain Luka Modric committing the first foul in only the second minute by tripping Umtiti. That set the pattern for the opening phase as Croatia dominated possession for the first 10 minutes, much as Belgium had been allowed by France in their semi-final.

France then took the lead against the run of play in the 18th minute. Croatia’s midfield anchor, Marcelo Brozovic, tripped Griezmann whose angled free kick on the right clipped the top of the leaping Mandzukic’s head and on past the luckess striker’s keeper Danijel Subasic.

Croatia pressed right back and deserved their equaliser. France failed to clear a right-wing free kick from Modric and Perisic, allowed to linger unmarked just inside the edge of the penalty box, pulled the ball down with his right foot and thumped home with his left. It was a superb goal, appropriately executed.

That was in the 29th minute but Croatia were not long on terms.

In the 35th minute France claimed a penalty for handball against Perisic, defending a right-wing corner from Griezmann. Referee Pitana initially awarded a goal kick but, in response to French protests, he consulted the video referee team and then decided to study the images himself on the pitchside screen.

Crucial movement

The judgment will always be contentious: Perisic had been jumping for the ball behind Blaise Matuidi and was unfortunate that his arm movement should have been judged deliberate.

On second viewing, however, referee Pitana awarded France a penalty and it was the turn of Croatia to protest. In vain. Griezmann clipped his kick to the right of Subasic as the keeper dived the other way. That made it six penalties out of six for Griezmann playing for his country.

Both teams raised the pace in the second half, Croatia to get back in the game. Their efforts were barely disturbed by the antics of three pitch invaders who were ultimately caught by security guards; protest band Pussy Riot later claimed responsibility.

Mbappe’s pace on the counter-attack set up a third goal for Paul Pogba and then Mbappe himself struck the fourth. He had thus become the first teenager to score in the final since Pele in 1958. Croatia were gifted a glimmer of hope when Lloris lost control of a backpass and presented Mandzukic with a simple goal but this time there was to be no dramatic comeback. Fourth time unlucky.

For the record, this was the highest-scoring final since the same outcome between in 1966 when England and West Germany had needed extra time to reach six goals. The previous highest-scoring 90 minutes in World Cup Final history was in 1958 when Brazil defeated hosts Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm.

Official awards:

Best Player: Luka Modric (Croatia). Best Young Player: Kylian Mbappe (France). Golden Shoe: Harry Kane (England). Golden Glove: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium).

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