Big names such as Griezmann, Mbappe and Pogba took to the field as favourites in the final against Croatia. But it was unfancied underdogs Croatia who stole our hearts despite handing France their second World Cup win. Alvin Thomas reports.
Thirty-two days of intense excitement, 68 action-packed games, and several unexpected surprises later, we have a winner of the 2018 FIFA World Cup – and it’s not one that many would have put their money on at the start of the tournament.
Sitting atop the tables from the start, the young French team that took home the trophy this week may not have rung many bells among sports critics or fans from around the globe.
However, the multi-ethnic team led by Hugo Lloris, and managed by Didier Deschamps created history – and it did so within 90 minutes of play. The last three World Cups before this (2006, 2010, and 2014) had all run into extra time.
Still, this is the second time the trophy is going to France, and the Frenchmen can now proudly don two stars on their jerseys.
While the footballing world is honouring France, first-time finalists – and underdogs – Croatia can pat themselves on the back for their stellar performances throughout the championship.
A total of six goals were scored in the final match, of which France netted four – arguably with a smidgen of luck… and the on-field referee.
Lucky break for France
The teams couldn’t be split for the initial part of the first half… at least until France received a lucky break in the form of a free-kick arising from an error by the on-field referee.
Action replays showed that French striker Antoine Griezmann pulled a “Neymar” when he took a dive in a desperate attempt to score a free-kick. The rest of the work was done by Croatian forward “Super Mario” – Mario Mandzukic.
But then again, at the time of the cross, Paul Pogba was offside – and it wasn’t called. This didn’t go down well with fans, with several Croatian supporters at the Oman World Cup Festival in the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre booing the referee.
Fahad al Tamimi, the sports editor of Koooora Wa Bas, Oman’s top sports magazine, said: “Give me some luck and I’ll throw down the seeds. That’s exactly what happened with the finals.”
“There was no reason for the referee to give France that free-kick. It was very evident that Griezmann – out of pressure – took a dive. He deserved a yellow card for that but instead, he was gifted with a goal.”
Croatia managed to strike back with a belter of a kick by Ivan Perisic, who sent the ball hurling past Lloris and crashing into the right corner of the French nets. But luck would soon turn its tables on Croatia yet again.
Come the 38th minute, France received another reprieve for their earlier mistake when the referee opted to make use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to adjudge Ivan Perisic as handling the ball.
Farhad said: “The Argentinian referee will definitely be called out for the controversial judgement. It wasn’t the VAR that was faulty but rather the referee, as it was evident that Perisic wasn’t deliberately handling the ball.
“In the second half, the two goals – by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe – further settled the match.
“By the 65th minute, the game was almost decided. So, there wasn’t much to make out of the Mario Mandzukic’s 69th minute lucky strike, when he foxed Lloris and sent it into the bottom corner of the French nets.”
A lasting impact on World Cup history
Croatia may have lost the World Cup but there’s one thing they did win: our hearts. Despite the inclusion of players like Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic, Croatia came into the finals as the underdogs.
Sulaiman al Kindi, a Croatian supporter at the Oman World Cup Festival, tells us: “It was a match between well-organised Croatians, and a young and ambitious French team.
“The French did win but the Croatians taught us how important it is to play as a team. We saw many countries like Argentina, Portugal and even Brazil falter there. They lacked the team work that we saw in the finals – and that’s precisely why these two countries did well.
“We don’t know how long we may have to wait until we can catch a World Cup such as this, wherein young teams will enter the final rounds, but I can tell you this: It will be etched as one of the most memorable ones ever played.”
Until next time
The Oman World Cup Festival was presented by Ooredoo, and was held at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (OCEC).
Here’s a glimpse of what happened at the World Cup finals at the Oman World Cup Festival: