It was the first time that Video Referee Assistant (VAR) technology was used in a World Cup final but controversial refereeing decsions ensured that a spectacle of the calibre of the final might have been marred by inconsistencies.
Argentine referee Nestor Pitana, who was also took charge of the first match played between Russia and Saudi Arabia was handed the duty to bring the curtain down on the showpiece event.
Both France’s opener and their second goal which handed them the lead in the second half were controversial in their own rights.
The first goal would follow after Antoine Griezmann was fouled outside the area. Griezmann looked to shimmy his way past Marcelo Brozovic, perhaps going down easily under the midfielder's attentions to set up a set piece in a very dangerous area. Replays looked unconvincing as Griezmann looked like he either accidentally tripped himself or went down against minimum contact.
VAR did not intervene due to the guidelines which suggests that it should only intervene in case of goals, penalties, direct red cards and mistaken identity. It was not a penalty or a red card incident so VAR did not intervene.
Controversy followed the actual scoring of the goal as well after Mario Mandzukic had scored the first ever own goal in a World Cup final. French midfielder Paul Pogba appeared to be in an offside position when Mandzukic headed into his own net.
The Croatia forward had jumped higher than Pogba and interfered with the play. Notably former Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas had his say on the matter over twitter.
“Honestly, I do not understand the use of VAR very well,” Casillas wrote.
“The referee points to a foul that wasn’t on Griezmann and France’s goal comes from that action and nothing happens.”
Uruguay and Barcelona striker Luis Suarez agreed with the former Real Madrid goalkeeper and wrote: You are right Iker and Paul Pogba was offside when he ‘participates’ in the play.
While the controversies in the first goal may get overlooked, it was France’s second goal ten minutes before half-time which might have changed the tide of the match after Croatia had fought back with a equalizer from Ivan Perisic.
Blaise Matuidi went up for a near-post header, but missed the nod-on. Instead, the ball landed near the defending Perisic's arm, prompting wild gesticulations from French players, pleading for a handball. The ball went out of bounds and was originally ruled a goal kick for Croatia, but the officials decided to use the VAR to check the play.
The referee put his finger to his ear, and after what felt like an eternity, signalled that he would consult the VAR. Whether it was deliberate, or whether Perisic's hand was in an unnatural position was not clear, even after repeated viewing of the incident.
Even when he appeared to come to a decision, the referee quickly spun on the spot and returned to the screen for one quick look before awarding a penalty to France from which Griezmann scored.
It looked highly unlikely that it was a case of deliberate handball and might have even been a case of ball to hand.
Alan Shearer led the criticism of the refree while talking at the BBC studio, claiming Pitana’s decision-making had been “ridiculous” and that both pivotal decisions were, in his opinion, wrong.
“They’re losing this game to a free-kick that wasn’t a free-kick, and penalty that definitely wasn’t penalty,” Shearer said.
Jurgen Klinsmann agreed, while Rio Ferdinand added: “Two bad decisions have really turned this game on its head.”
It was the biggest game in the biggest showpiece event in the world. A game which should have been lit up by the footballing excellence of the participating teams. In a way, that probably was the case. France had the most talented squad in the tournament and they managed to showcase their abilities. However, football is a crazy game where moments can decide the outcome of a match and before the second France goal, Croatia were looking like the better side. Whatever the result, maybe controversies should not lead discussions in the aftermath of such an important game, which is what happened after the final.