A magnificent final, but a pity that technology got in the way.

That's the initial feeling after a wonderful climax to the 2018 World Cup.

France were deserved – if not exactly likeable – champions but the VAR-driven first half penalty left a bitter taste of 'if-only' and 'what might have been', something you never want on such an occasion.

As widely predicted at the start of the tournament, VAR would play an important role and it reared its (ugly) head with the controversial penalty decision by Argentinian refereee Nelson Pitana.


In the 37th minute Pintana had signalled a goal kick, but upon the pleads of the French players, and a word in his ear from the VAR panel, the referee decided to check.

It was then that the game turned, on a turn.

Pintana considered the replay, watching on a single screen at the side of the pitch, in one of the quaint Fifa innovations.

After watching several angles – at real time and slow motion – of the ball striking Ivan Perisic's hand, the referee seemed to make up his mind. He set off for the field of play, went a few paces, but then turned back and returned to the television screen.

It betrayed his indecisiveness. Before settling on his fateful penalty decision, Pitana wasn't completely sure. Incredible. Unfortunately, with such a crucial call in a World Cup final, he had to be absolutely certain, but his body language conveyed otherwise. There was certainly enough doubt when watching the replay, particularly at high speed.

Why-o-why Senor Pitana?

As Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic correctly summarised, "in a World Cup [final], you do not give such a penalty."

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That call was the crucial moment. Sure, some will say that France won by a convincing 4-2 margin, but that belies a lack of understanding of the sport. Those two late French goals probably don't happen with the match at 1-1, and Croatia with fire in their belly.

When the game was on the line, France offered little. They were nervous in the first 20 minutes, struggled to keep the ball, and the likes of Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba spent more time gesturing to the referee than constructing any football.

Meanwhile Croatia weaved magic in front of them, in one of their most compelling performances of the month.

The team from the Balkans played some superb football, while France were content to sit back from the start of the match, pouncing on the counter attack. All that was missing for Croatia was a clinical touch in front of goal – they were wasteful - and some luck.

Meanwhile France was blessed. The free kick that led to the first French goal was questionable, before the fateful penalty. And where the rebound fell perfectly for Paul Pogba – to superbly convert France's third goal – nothing bounces Croatia's way in the box.

It was one of those days for them.

"We played well in the first 20 minutes, we controlled the game, then there was this own goal from set play," reflected Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic. "Then we came back into life, we dominated then the penalty was given. I never comment on refereing, but let me say one thing....in a World Cup [final]you do not give such a penalty. Maybe we were a bit unlucky. In the first six games we may have been favoured, not today."