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.
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.”