KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING from MOSCOW—- History was made with the use of video technology as France beat Croatia 4-2 in the closing moments of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final in Moscow’s Luzhniki.
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 penalty following a VAR check with his pitchside video screen. Griezmann converted the 36th-minute kick
Controversy over the goal will run on. Opinions among observers were divided over whether Pitana should have awarded the penalty. Croatia will always believe that, in restoring the French led, it turned the game decisively against them, the surprise outsiders.
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).
Didier 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.
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. A Modric free kick was headed high over by Domagoj Vida then they demanded a penalty in vain after Mandzukic was pulled around by Paul Pogba chasing another delivery from his captain.
They 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.
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.
This time 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.
Back in the game Griezmann saw a shot easily saved by Subasic who then produced a fine stop after Mbappe burst through on the right for the first time in the game. Mbappe’s pace on the counter-attack threatened to be a potentially decisive counter-attacking weapon for France – as it duly proved in the 59th minute.
A superb long ball upfield from Pogba let Mbappe race away again to cross. Griezmann pushed the ball back and Pogba, after his first shot was blocked by Modric, drove home the rebound.
Six more minutes and Lucas Hernandez squared the ball for Mbappe, now in the inside left position, to take his time and shoot home low to Subasic’s right. The keeper’s view of Mbappe had been masked by central defender Vida who had not been quick enough to make a challenge.
Mbappe had thus become the first teenager to score in the final since Pele in 1958.
That appeared to be game over but Croatia were gifted a glimmer of hope by Lloris, on a backpass from Umtiti. The keeper tried to sidestep Mandzukic but lost control and he forward pushed the ball back past him for a simple second goal.
The goal had come too late for Croatia, however. Finally, they failed to put their act back together and France played out the game comparatively comfortably.
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.
Best Player: Luka Modric. Best Young Player: Kylian Mbappe. Golden Shoe: Harry Kane. Golden Glove: Thibaut Courtois