WORLD CUP finals used to be settled by Argentinians like Mario Kempes tiptoeing through ticker-tape or Diego Maradona splitting a defence with his visionary genius.
This one hinged on a middle-aged former actor called Nestor Pitana watching a television by the side of the pitch, then guessing on a handball decision.
Perhaps young French kids will grow up dreaming of emulating Pitana when he changed his mind on one of several video replays.
Or perhaps they’ll model themselves on Olivier Giroud and Co hounding the ref and his remote VAR men until the magical moment when he was persuaded to make a charades TV-screen gesture and then finally point to the spot.
Like Geoff Hurst’s “They think it’s all over . . . ” moment, or Carlos Alberto wrapping up Brazil’s majestic fourth in Mexico, or Marco Tardelli screaming his lungs out in the Bernabeu, this will be the defining image of the 2018 World Cup final.
It was the VAR final, the day technology took over, changed the nature of the biggest match on the planet and sucked the spontaneity out of its key incident.
Until Pitana penalised Ivan Perisic for a debatable handball — he moved his hand slightly towards it but would have probably been unsighted for so long — Croatia were the better side.
Indeed, when Antoine Griezmann scored the 38th-minute spot-kick after a lengthy delay, it was France’s only shot on target of the first half.
They had taken the lead through a Mario Mandzukic own-goal, from a Griezmann free-kick won by an abject Griezmann dive.
But Perisic had leathered home an equaliser and Croatia’s underdogs had played most of the football.
Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba conjured classy second-half finishes to take the contest away from Croatia.
Yet it was Pitana who swung it. He’d had a VAR review of a handball against Mexico’s Javier Hernandez in a group game with Sweden.
But on that occasion he had clearly decided he’d not made a “clear and obvious error” by failing to award a spot-kick in the first place.
That is supposed to be the guideline but perhaps Pitana — with his thespian past — fancied taking centre stage here.
Maybe he enjoyed the loud booing he received from 10,000 Croats when he was awarded his medal at the curtain call.
Any manager who wants to win in the VAR age will be coaching his players to do as Giroud & Co did by gesticulating wildly to persuade Pitana and the boys in the box that this was worth a second look.
The world seemed split on whether Pitana had ultimately got it right and the benefit of the doubt ought to have gone to the defence when there was no clear correct answer.
Pitana seemed to betray his uncertainty by returning to the TV screen for a final look, having initially moved away.
But his final glance sealed the deal and it was a penalty to France. That was the game-changer, right there.
France’s superior attacking prowess might have won them the World Cup anyway — they weren’t hot favourites for no reason.
The Seine would have been flowing with Champagne last night and why not?
This is a well-balanced, vibrant and youthful side capable of getting far better still.
The French are worthy champions on behalf of a nation which feels young again.
Don’t forget many of these players were cowering in their dressing room for hours after a terror attack on the Stade de France just 2½ years ago.
Only the steel-hearted would begrudge France this glory.
But Croatia — with the guile of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Perisic as well as the guts of every player — did not deserve to lose in such controversial fashion.
Their small nation is big of heart and massive on testicular fortitude, as England found to their cost in Wednesday’s semi-final.
This was the most entertaining World Cup final since Maradona’s heyday of 1986 and there had not been so many goals in one since Hurst’s hat-trick in 1966.
The final goal from Mandzukic came after a comedic blunder from Hugo Lloris, a dead ringer for the opener gifted by Liverpool’s Loris Karius to Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema at the Champions League final.
All in all, though, it was a belting match after a compelling tournament, hosted wonderfully by Russia.
It had pretty much everything — drama, controversy, skill, blunders and even a pitch invasion by the female punk band Pussy Riot protesting against Vladimir Putin.
We had Mbappe’s lightning bursts amid the thunderclaps of a stormy Moscow evening.
We had Pogba justifying the hype, playing with a freedom never granted by Jose Mourinho.
And then we had Lloris lifting the trophy — fresh from its French-made Louis Vuitton travel case — drenched to his skin in the middle of a prolonged cloudburst.
But for all the majesty and excitement provided yesterday and over the past month, it was VAR what won it.
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