France lift World Cup, Croatia win hearts

A wrong spot-kick decision against Croatia by referee Nestor Pitana changed the course of the 2018 World Cup final and helped France win the title (pictured) for the second time after 20 years.

The controversial penalty kick in the 39th minute over a “handball” against Ivan Perisic came as a blow to Croats whose dream final started badly with an own goal in the 19th minute by their semi-final hero Mario Mandzukic while trying to head away a soft free-kick by Antoine Griezmann from outside the box.

Griezmann went down with barely any contact from Brozovic. Maybe, a wind blowing across the field ahead of a rain storm made him lose his balance. Pitana awarded France a free-kick.

Incidentally, Mandzukic became the first player to ever score an own goal in a World Cup final by flicking in a free-kick. As many players rose to meet the corner, Danijel Subasic saw the ball deflecting in too late.

Croatia dominated the final and played a better game but France ultimately won the cup 4-2.

Croatia began attacking France from the kick-off with Les Blues on the defensive to prevent goals. But France could not stop mercurial Ivan Perisic from finding the equaliser.

In the 29th minute, Sime Vrsaljko headed Luka Modric’s free-kick to Domagoj Vida who passed the ball back to Perisic. Tossing the ball from his right to left, Perisic found some space to send a powerful left-footer to the bottom corner beyond keeper Hugo Lloris’ reach.

While the two goals by France in the first half came from set-pieces, Perisic’s goal was classy.

Croatia kept pressuring France and were looking for a lead when things changed in the 39th minute. Perisic rose to clear a corner by France, missed it and the ball accidentally hit his hand as he brought it down in the follow-through.

It was an involuntary hand ball. After scoring a spectacular goal, Perisic would never have deliberately handed the ball but French players insisted that video assistant referee should review the case.

After four minutes of checking and rechecking, the referee finally allowed France penalty. The decision was too harsh on Croatia. But for France, it was another set-piece and Griezmann converted to make it 2-1.

In the second half, Croatia came close to an equaliser but Lloris tipped Ante Rebic’s shot over the bar. Croats were on the offensive most of the time but the French defence resisted them. As Croats went all out for the goal, they left space in their half which was what French forwards were looking for.

Pogba made it 3-1 in the 59th minute after he sent a long pass to Mbappe and received a pass back through Griezmann. Subasic blocked his first shot but the second one went in.

Mbappe scored the fourth goal from outside the box in the 55th minute.

Lloris blundered in the 69th minute when, instead of taking a long kick, he tried to dribble the ball past the approaching Mandzukic who got his right leg to it and tapped it home.

Croatia continued their onslaught but the goals to level the match remained elusive as minutes ticked away.

Croatia’s World Cup loss is painful. Their unity as a team, passion for the game, dogged spirit to fight back and sense of pride have won the hearts of millions.

If World Cup’s ultimate goal is to bring forth these qualities in a team so as to inspire those who love the game, Croatia has won the cup!