VAR Had Other Plans for Croatia

Post-game analysis on the World Cup 2018, what smaller countries can learn from the Croatian example, and the new technologies of the sport.

Last Sunday, the World Cup 2018 reached its long-awaited conclusion in a riveting match that pitted France against its unlikely opponent, Croatia. An unprecedented 6 goals were scored.

Throughout the first half, the Croatian team controlled the game with an outstanding midfield, consisting of the best players of the World Cup 2018: Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic (with the latter scoring the goal that brought the game to 1:1 in the first half).

The Croatian team has definitely been the biggest sensation of the tournament. Early on, they demonstrated an indefatigable spirit, great technical ability and tactical awareness. They played with confidence, determination and elegance.They truly demonstrated the slogan on their team’s bus: “Small Country, Big Dreams!” Particularly relevant for the Armenian national football team, the example of Croatia should be inspiring for other smaller nations, proving they can achieve success with hard work, talent and unity.

It did not come easy. Their qualification campaign was in danger after a tie with Finland. The federation took a risky decision, firing the former coach Ante Čačić before the last game against Ukraine and appointing Zlatko Dalić. But the team’s persistence saw them come through.

This is why the final, that saw France defeating Croatia 4:2, was difficult for many of us cheering for the little guy to watch.

The fate of the game was sealed, after a (in this author’s opinion) wrongly-awarded free kick after a flop by one of the biggest stars in world of football Antoine Griezmann. The penalty was given after a controversial handball call against one of the stars of the tournament Croatian Ivan Perisic.

This episode was replayed on all screens and match highlights across the globe. English ITV channel pundit and former Manchester United captain, Roy Keane, was outraged, calling referee Nestor Pitana “an idiot,” and exclaiming, “that decision there disgusts me, absolutely disgusts me.” The former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon pointed out at another defining mistake by the Argentinian referee that Griezmann was clearly diving in the episode that ended with a free kick. Similar opinions were echoed by pretty much all pundits offering post-match analysis.

In any case, France also demonstrated very resilient and flexible football. Against each of the seven opponents they played, France’s head coach, Didier Deschamps, thoroughly prepared his game plan, which his team followed with diligence. They never won a game with a more than a 2 point advantage but, when needed, always stepped up to a higher gear, and added speed and creativity with the efforts from the tournament’s best young player, Kylian Mbappe; the versatile and towering midfielder, Paul Pogba; the brick wall type defense of N’Golo Kante; and the bold presence of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. While they won’t be remembered as the most entertaining or elegant World Cup team, they were very efficient, with a lot of depth and potential.

Team Croatia after the final match of the 2018 World Cup. (Photo:

It is a shame that the most important game of the year was marred by controversy, which altered the course and eventual outcome of the game. But it must be said that, for Video Assisted Referee (VAR) technology (utilized by the referee, Pitana, to determine the game-changing penalty kick), this is just the beginning. This is the first World Cup in which the technology is being utilized, and one must wonder: Is it minimizing controversy on the field, or simply adding another layer to it? So far, the overall impression is that the VAR addition certainly has a positive effect on the game. As Guardian sports writer Sean Ingle recently wrote, “Of course there have been mistakes…. But VAR is getting it right more often than not.”

Zaven Aharonian

Zaven Aharonian

Zaven Aharonian is a freelance soccer journalist. Grew up in Armenia and played for his alma mater, Yerevan Polytechnic University's soccer team, as attacking midfielder. A hi-tech engineer working in Silicon Valley, he has passionately followed soccer events around the world. In 2006, he was an accredited journalist at the World Cup in Germany. He has interviewed Italian football manager and former head coach of Milan's, Roma's, England's and Russia's teams, Fabio Capello.
Zaven Aharonian

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  1. My opinion, France won by tricks and not because they had better players. Their first two goals were just chance. Also, I was not impressed with France at all as far as their “French” team was concerned, they collected all these rag-tag players from across the globe because they put up the money to “purchase” them. In contrast, Croatia had their own people from their own country and they made it all the way to the top, proving that the French “formula” for winning is a myth. I agree with this article, Croatia totally represented the spirit of Armenia, and how we often are up against commercialized phonies.

    • That’s inaccurate statement. Majority of these players were born and raised in France, learn to play football in France, were part of their youth system. They are primarily second, third generation of immigrants. The same was the case with French teams that won head to head the World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000. There is no basis calling them not French. Moreover, I think their strength comes from this diversity.

  2. I think the VAR is a bad idea in general and more so for the World Cup in particular. It gives players the opportunity to cheat. In this World Cup, the first to use the VAR technology, most VAR judgement calls took place around or within the 18 yards. If VAR determines a foul was committed outside the 18 yards that’s a free kick and if it is a foul within the 18 yards that’s a penalty kick from 9 yards. Skilled players can score goals from around the 18 yards and most players can score goals from the penalty spot. This can be an incentive for the players to exaggerate an ordinary situation and to take advantage to create a situation artificially to gain a free or a penalty kick thus potentially changing the outcome of the game. I think the VAR should be abolished while the referees should be vetted very closely and players who cheat punished. The referee’s first instinct to make the call, one way or the other, should be good enough as it has been in the past.

  3. This is not the case by far. Overwhelming majority of the public who commented on this – the pundits, the journalists, former players, coaches admitted that despite some issues there is a drastic improvement in key refereeing decisions and lot less controversy.
    Yes, this was the first major tournament where this technology was used and there is a room for improvement. But video replays made already their ways into other sports and work fine. it’s time for football to catch up and there is no way back! There would be no cases when the ball crosses the line for nearly a meter and bounces back into the field and game continues like at Germany – England game with Frank Lampard goal.

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