France are world champions, but all the headlines are about VAR

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By Mike Tuckerman, Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    There was only one team in the World Cup final and they lost, as France recorded a barely deserved 4-2 win over Croatia thanks to a helping hand from the VAR.

    The glaring flaw with Video Assistant Referee technology is that it’s used one minute to decide a subjective decision, only to go missing in action for the next.

    So it was that Antoine Griezmann conned referee Nestor Pitana with a blatant dive that led to France’s opening goal from a free-kick, before Les Bleus were then awarded a dubious penalty for Ivan Perišić’s handball from a corner.

    There’s no way that penalty is given in pre-VAR days, but now that FIFA have decided that football is to be re-refereed in slow motion, what was once a simple sport is now stuck with a technological problem entirely of its own making.

    And the seemingly inexorable march of big teams enjoying one-sided decision-making goes on.

    Not that it seems to bother Gianni Infantino. The FIFA president – who was pictured on screen almost as frequently as the players this World Cup – campaigned on a platform of change, but has only offered more of the same in his self-glorifying stint in charge of the gravy train.

    And you have to wonder whether FIFA would have been so quick to introduce VAR technology, had they not been looking to steer media headlines away from countless corruption charges.

    At any rate, Croatia deserve credit for taking the game to France, and Perišić’s superbly-taken first half equaliser threatened to blow the game wide open.

    But he went from hero to villain in quick succession, even if his handball from a corner – which seemed to take an eternity to make – was a ridiculously harsh decision.

    Danijel Subašić didn’t exactly have his best game in a Croatian jersey, and it’s always surprising to see how often goalkeepers dive to their left at penalties.

    Had Subašić gone the other way he would have easily saved Griezmann’s tame spot-kick – which was carbon copy of the penalty he scored against Argentina.

    It was always going to be a tough ask to come back from a 2-1 half-time deficit, and when Croatia found themselves stretched as they chased the game in the second half, the French were clinical enough to score a couple of insurance goals.

    Perhaps there was some justice in the fact that Mario Mandžukić was then gifted a consolation thanks to Hugo Lloris’ goalkeeping blunder, given that it was Mandžukić who inadvertently opened the scoring with his unfortunate own goal.

    And the French lifted the World Cup trophy despite having flattered to deceive for much of the final.

    France World Cup

    (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

    Kudos to Didier Deschamps, who became just the third man after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer to win the World Cup as both a player and coach.

    In doing so, Deschamps went some way to exorcising the demons of losing the final of Euro 2016 to Portugal on home soil.

    And in teenager Kylian Mbappe – who scored France’s third goal – Deschamps unleashed on international football a player who is clearly destined for stardom.

    It’s just a shame the VAR decision will dominate the headlines today – not least because the World Cup as a whole was outstanding.

    Just when football looked to be sinking into a mire of predictability – with the same teams winning the same trophies year after year – the World Cup breathed new life into the international game.

    It was ably hosted by a Russia that surprised many with its charm and cheer, although you probably wouldn’t want to be those pitch invaders right about now.

    And France – despite getting a huge leg-up in the final – were just about the best team in the tournament.

    Congratulations to Les Bleus. They’re the new world champions, despite the best efforts of a Croatian side that was truly gallant in defeat.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist since December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (121)

    • July 16th 2018 @ 4:35am
      Kurt said | July 16th 2018 @ 4:35am | ! Report

      Maybe slightly harsh on France Mike but overall agree with the gist of your article.

      As for the pussy riot girls, geez that’s not going to end well for them.

      • Roar Guru

        July 16th 2018 @ 9:58am
        JamesH said | July 16th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Slightly harsh?!?!?

        France were comfortably the best, most consistent team of the tournament. Daylight was in second place. You can argue that Belgium or Brazil were more entertaining but France were deserving winners. Best team of the tournament and – despite Mike’s protestations – the best team of the final.

        I felt the penalty was, on balance, a penalty. Perisic brought his hand down towards the path of the ball and knocked it away. There was a slight deflection but it’s not as if the the ball moved towards his arm. The ref can only use what he sees on the screen to try to determine the player’s intent and the hand moving towards the line of the ball is always going to look bad.

        You could argue that it wasn’t clear and obvious enough to overturn on VAR (although it was way more of a penalty than the one Australia got vs Denmark) and I guess that’s where the controversy lies. However, you can also argue that the penalty should have been given live. If that wasn’t given and Croatia went on to win the final then it’s just as controversial.

        As for Griezmann’s free – yeah, he started to go down before the contact (which is frustrating from a neutral perspective), but the contact was there. If he had waited a split second longer to go down would anyone have batted an eyelid at the free kick? Poor challenge when the ball was nowhere near (and VAR doesn’t review free kicks anyway).

        The really annoying thing about this article though is the suggestion that France didn’t turn up. The ref had nothing to do with those great strikes from Pogba and Mbappe, which happened after both sides had taken stock at half time. Even if the score had still been 1-1 (or 0-1) til then, France deserved to win on the back of those goals. It’s hard to see Lloris being so casual re the second Croatia goal if the scores were tighter at that point.

        Bottom line: Croatia were courageous and an understandable sentimental favourite, but that shouldn’t take the gloss of what has been a really strong tournament by France. They spent just 9 minutes of match time trailing (vs Argentina) and were the first winners since Brazil in 2002 to not need extra time in any game. Pretty comprehensive.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 16th 2018 @ 10:03am
          At work said | July 16th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          Agree on all of it JamesH

          • Roar Guru

            July 16th 2018 @ 10:06am
            JamesH said | July 16th 2018 @ 10:06am | ! Report

            Oh, and I forgot to add – there was nothing ‘tame’ about Griezmann’s spot kick. It was a classic case of forcing the keeper to commit and sending the ball in the other direction. Exactly what Jedinak did against France.

            • Roar Guru

              July 16th 2018 @ 10:52am
              Chris Kettlewell said | July 16th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

              I was thinking the same. Mile Jedinak has the best penalty conversion rate of all, and I regularly look at his penalties and feel like if the keeper went the right way it would be an easy save. Yet they never do, which suggests that he is very good at adjusting right as he kicks it, to watch the keeper and go the other way.

              Keepers need to be smarter. These days there is so much research done around all aspects, including penalties. They should have details of the main penalty takers of the opposition and know if they are someone who effectively waits for the keeper to move before deciding where to put the ball, and for players like that, don’t commit early, just watch and react and force them to actually put one wide enough for you not to reach it. But keepers will keep moving before the player takes the kick and the shrewd penalty takers will continue to watch them and just calmly put it the other way.

            • July 16th 2018 @ 10:55am
              AGO74 said | July 16th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

              Yep, Griezmanns penalty in terms of approach which lead to the keeper committing pre-kick was textbook stuff. I also suspect the keeper wa happy to go early as I’m not convinced he was 100%.

            • July 16th 2018 @ 11:25am
              Swampy said | July 16th 2018 @ 11:25am | ! Report

              Agree with everything you’ve said.

              This article reeks of sour grapes – particular unbalanced writing in favour of the croats. Little congratulations to the team that was the most consistent and performed best in the final.

              I was hoping the croats could get up as it would be a great story for football. However France in the end were far too talented.

              • Columnist

                July 16th 2018 @ 12:57pm
                Mike Tuckerman said | July 16th 2018 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

                No sour grapes on my end – I just call it as I see it.

                Great response from JamesH, and there’s plenty I agree with. However, the complexion of the game changed thanks to two controversial refereeing decisions that both went against Croatia, both of which France scored from. That they were contentious decisions is amply illustrated by the fact that there’s been no clear consensus around them today.

                So to suggest that France easily dominated the match thereafter is being a little bit disingenuous. They’d want to, having just been gifted two goals in a World Cup Final.

                I don’t doubt that France always had another gear to slide into. And I don’t think either of the two pivotal decisions that went against Croatia were easy ones to make. But it would have been interesting to see what sort of a final it would have transformed into had the VAR decision not gone France’s way.

              • Roar Guru

                July 16th 2018 @ 2:22pm
                JamesH said | July 16th 2018 @ 2:22pm | ! Report

                Thanks Mike and I generally agree with that comment.

                The decisions were contentious, that’s a decent description. I just don’t think they were clearly wrong as some are making out. After what we’ve seen given as a handball previously in the tournament I’m not really surprised at the call against Perisic.

                We’d all have loved to see a final with no questionable goals but, then again, it’s weirdly fitting that VAR and simulation played a part in the decider of this particular tournament.

              • July 16th 2018 @ 2:38pm
                lunchboxexpert said | July 16th 2018 @ 2:38pm | ! Report


                I think there was nothing controversial about either of the decisions. I think it is because, in part, people don’t understand that slow motion replays are only really good at establishing the facts about what happened. They are not very good at establishing the intent of the players involved, because time is distorted during a slow motion replay. To make a judgement about intent you need to run the video in real time because this is the time in which players make decisions.

                So in my mind the Griezmann free kick should have been awarded (as it was) because it looked like a free kick in real time, its only in slow motion that it appears that Griezmann MAY have taken an intentional dive but it is not definitive. This is where people need to be careful with slow motion replays, because the slow motion replay makes the players actions appear intentional because they appear to have more time. I did note that Griezmann’s foot did land on the ground after the tripping action but I also think that is likely that the momentum of the upper body, while his legs where slowed by the tripping action, ultimatley brought Griezemann down. I also think that only Griezmann would know if he took a dive or not. So there wasn’t an obvious mistake on the part of the referee so the free kick stands.

                With the handball penalty, the VAR was used to establish the fact that the ball had been handballed (with the arms away from the side of the body or arms not behind the back) in front of goal. Once that fact had been established then a handball is a penalty almost everytime and the only debate becomes a question about whether the offending player should be shown a card (including what colour) or not. Maybe the fault is with the coach (and not the referee) for not telling his players this? As for the coaches claim that the world cup final should be refereed differently to any other game, I think this is wrong also.

        • Roar Guru

          July 16th 2018 @ 11:19am
          Renegade said | July 16th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report

          France were definitely the best team throughout the tournament…. the final was played 4 days earlier between France-Belgium.

          Croatia had the luck of a soft draw through the knockout stages just like England did and were always going to get smacked in the final.

          How anyone can say “barely deserved” is beyond me…

          • July 16th 2018 @ 12:12pm
            Kangas said | July 16th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

            France were the best team at the tournament , slightly ahead of Belgium.

            But James it’s an massive exaggeration to say they were comfortably the best team . They were a mess at various times including the final.

            Croatia outplayed France as did Belgium for very long periods, France were anything but comfortable, also a poor Peru and Argentina team made France look uncomfortable for many times .

            However I think going ahead, with the monkey of their back, France will become a much better team then present.

            • Roar Rookie

              July 16th 2018 @ 1:52pm
              Waz said | July 16th 2018 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

              I’d say Belgium were the better side … but you can’t argue with the results.

              The two best sides were defiantly France/Belgium. Belgium have probably peaked but there’s a lot more to come from this France team.

            • Roar Guru

              July 16th 2018 @ 2:12pm
              JamesH said | July 16th 2018 @ 2:12pm | ! Report

              Kangas, being put under pressure doesn’t make you a mess. With the exception of Perisic’s brilliant strike, they absorbed everything Croatia threw at them, and then took their chances at the other end. Bear in mind that they only allowed Croatia four shots on target for the whole match, compared to France’s six.

              When I say ‘comfortably’ I mean that they were clearly the best. I’m not suggesting they were always comfortable out on the park. Croatia, Belgium and Argentina had them on the back foot at times.

              However, you don’t have to dominate full matches to be the best side. How you handle periods where the opposition is on top is just as important as how you handle your own opportunities. France showed they could consistently mix desperate defence with precise attack. For me, that set them apart from other sides.

              The only match where I think they actually looked unsure of their game was, strangely, against Australia, who refused to allow them space in their attacking half. When they switched out Dembele in the second half for Giroud, who manufactured that space with his physical presence, they looked a more threatening side.

    • Roar Pro

      July 16th 2018 @ 5:45am
      anon said | July 16th 2018 @ 5:45am | ! Report

      It was a penalty. Arm was at an unnatural position. Penalty every day of the week. In the past the ref might not have given it, but that’s because they’ve made a mistake. No where for refs to hide any more. No more howlers.

      What do you want the ref to do? Make an incorrect decision because Croatia were the sentimental favourites? On a side note, the bias for Croatia shown by SBS was really unprofessional. Throughout the broadcast, but especially annoying was at the end where France has won convincingly but all they can talk about is what this will do for Croatian politics, unemployment, etc. It was ridiculous.

      Any way, the penalty didn’t impact the result.

      Croatia were down 2-1 at half time because of their sloppiness. An own goal and hand ball in the penalty area. Sloppy stuff. Not going to win a World Cup Final making those errors.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 16th 2018 @ 8:22am
        Waz said | July 16th 2018 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        The arm being in an “ unnatural position” has nothing to do with it (“unnatural position” is not even mentioned in the laws of the game).

        Hand ball has to be deliberate, that’s the only criteria that matters. Did you think it was deliberate?

        • Roar Rookie

          July 16th 2018 @ 10:53am
          Tom VDS said | July 16th 2018 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          I think they’ve moved away from any notion of ‘deliberate’ or ‘unnatural position’ when it comes to adjudicating handball in this World Cup. There appears to have been a clear directive from FIFA that if the ball clearly strikes the hand in the area, it’s a penalty – no questions asked.
          I personally think it was extremely harsh and definitely wasn’t intentional. But looking at the trend of this World Cup, the surprise was not that the penalty was given, but how long he took to give it..

        • Roar Guru

          July 16th 2018 @ 10:58am
          Chris Kettlewell said | July 16th 2018 @ 10:58am | ! Report

          It’s more than just deliberate. If the arm is away from the body and the ball strikes it then it will generally be given (assuming the ref sees it, and now they have assistance in that). Basically a player can’t just make themselves big by having the arms out and then just claim “the ball hit my arm, it wasn’t deliberate”.

          8 years ago against Germany, Harry Kewell got sent off and a penalty given when he was standing on the goal line, his arm by his side, and he didn’t move his arm at all, and the ball was blasted at him and his his arm. So yes, you might find some people would like to argue against that being a penalty, but an arm being a bit away from the body that deflects a ball that is travelling in the general direction of the goal is generally going to get given as a penalty unless the ref simply doesn’t see it well enough to make the call. The VAR allowed him to see it well enough. Likely the amount of time he took to look at it was because it was the World Cup final and he didn’t want to be the ref who ruined the final with a bad penalty call and therefore wanted to take his time to be 100% about his decision.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 16th 2018 @ 11:54am
            Waz said | July 16th 2018 @ 11:54am | ! Report

            It shows how subjective handball is; but every time the ball strikes the arm it’s not a handball offence.

            Personally I think this decision was very harsh; first of all because the defenders hand is in a natural position (for someone jumping, his arms are right where they’re supposed to be), secondly the defender has reason to assume the attacker will connect with the ball but when he doesn’t, he’s only got a micro second to react (the law makes specific provision for this saying the ref should make an allowance).

            If there’s a final mitigating point against it being a pen it’s that the next in line was a Croatian defender who would likely have cleared the ball.

            So it’s harsh for those reasons imo; why it was given under the laws of the game I’d like an explanation. All players and coaches deserve an explanation in fact because I’m betting the next time we see that, it won’t be given a pen.

            • July 16th 2018 @ 2:15pm
              chris said | July 16th 2018 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

              Spot on Waz. His arms were where they should be.
              Similar penalties have been given (Aus pen v France) where there was very minimal hand contact BUT Umtitis arm/hand was flailing around like a goal keepers. Big difference.
              And Mike is right. France got 2 goals off dubious decisions and the Croats did marvellously well to make them look ragged either side of those 2 goals.
              Did/could France have another gear or 2 if they needed it? Possibly yes, but Croatia were playing behind the 8 ball right from the get go.

            • July 16th 2018 @ 5:01pm
              jbinnie said | July 16th 2018 @ 5:01pm | ! Report

              Waz – I m surprised that no one has mentioned that as a result of the ball striking the player’s arm/hand it changed direction almost at right angles from a cross ball from the wing into a deflection forward that would have caused a corner kick to be awarded had the French players not immediately reacted towards the ref.
              So the question should be, did the Croatians get any sort of benefit from the ball striking the players arm or hand.?
              IMO had the ball been allowed to travel onwards on it’s original course,nobody,I repeat nobody, can say with any certainty what would have transpired.
              France are a funny team to watch. They reflect their coaches thinking in the way they immediately retreat into their opponents half when they lose possession but even with Giroud struggling in the unfamiliar role it took a schoolboy error by their goalkeeper to raise Croatian hopes in those last few minutes.
              From a pure football angle, not a final that will be remembered but nevertheless France shows a discipline seldom shown in French teams of the past and this,balanced by the ages of their players ,bodes well for the future. Cheers jb.

              • July 16th 2018 @ 9:33pm
                holly said | July 16th 2018 @ 9:33pm | ! Report

                he is 3 yards from the goal, his hand moves towards the ball diverting it out for what would have been a corner if the penalty had not been given.
                100% a penalty

      • July 16th 2018 @ 8:27am
        AGO74 said | July 16th 2018 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Anon – it’s quite clear during the live blog by Scott last night that you were very biased against Croatia (I’m not sure why but everyone is entitled to their opinion). So for you to cry wolf at any apparent sbs biased in favour of Croat is somewhat funny.

        For what it’s worth I thought their commentary at half time on the match was fair and reasonable. Most people agree that they were unsure as to how were Croatia behind. I do agree their hyperbole at full time on how these teams can positively influence both Croatian and French society (they were equally talking at length about the racial integration factor in respect of the French) was a bit over the top in terms of drinking the football kool-aid.

        • Roar Pro

          July 16th 2018 @ 1:36pm
          anon said | July 16th 2018 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

          No bias.

          Everyone was talking about Croatia is dominating, should be this and that, score doesn’t reflect the game.

          Croatia only have themselves to blame for being down 2-1 at half time. A sloppy hand ball and sloppy own goal. Not going to win too many matches doing that in the first half of a game.

    • July 16th 2018 @ 6:29am
      Onside said | July 16th 2018 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      VAR; maybe it should be decided by 2 out of 3 , include the linesmen.

      • July 16th 2018 @ 6:50am
        Fadida said | July 16th 2018 @ 6:50am | ! Report

        Rock, paper scissors would be as reliable.

        VAR shouldn’t be used in matters of opinion

        • July 16th 2018 @ 9:38am
          jameswm said | July 16th 2018 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          Whether it hit the arm or not is not opinion.

          • Roar Guru

            July 16th 2018 @ 1:09pm
            Mango Jack said | July 16th 2018 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            But intent is.

            I agree with Fadida, it only adds real value when there is something clearly measurable, like did the ball cross the goal line. Also, and this is my biggest gripe with VAR used in other sports, slow motion distorts the situation. In slo-mo, you could reach the conclusion that Perisic intended to stop the ball, but in real time, he had no time to react.

            • July 16th 2018 @ 2:24pm
              chris said | July 16th 2018 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

              Jack totally agree with you. When you look at it in normal speed I’m not sure what Perisic was meant to do with his hand? It is part of the human body and its not like he moved towards the ball or that his hand was somewhere it shouldn’t be.
              Big call from a ref who I think is very good, but he got it wrong on this one.

          • July 16th 2018 @ 1:09pm
            Fadida said | July 16th 2018 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            The rules don’t stipulate that the ball hitting the hands is a penalty. There needs to be an intention to handle.

            Whether there is intention clearly is an opinion. This is why penalties given for handball are so contentious. The referee last night was of the opinion there was intention. The Roar jury seems to be split 50-50 as whether it was a penalty.

            Hand ball is an opinion. The ball crossing the goalline or not is fact

    • July 16th 2018 @ 6:44am
      Albatross said | July 16th 2018 @ 6:44am | ! Report

      I thought it was a fair result. And certainly don’t think VAR will be the talking point. Croatia pressed and France countered. Had the Croats been more clinical the result may have been different.
      As for the pen.. it was a pen fair and square.

      • July 16th 2018 @ 8:07am
        Fadida said | July 16th 2018 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        My first thought was it was a penalty. So was my second

      • July 16th 2018 @ 8:34am
        pete4 said | July 16th 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Game at 1-1 with Croatia well on top and VAR not the talking point? The decision changed the whole course of the match

        Just like against us France get a very debatable decision which takes far too long to make. That alone begs the question it was a clear and obvious error

        • July 16th 2018 @ 9:21am
          Albatross said | July 16th 2018 @ 9:21am | ! Report

          Sorry Pete, have to disagree. The pen was a dead cert and correctly adjudicated. Hand moved to the ball from the pictures I saw.
          Regardless, possession might be 9 tenths of the law, but won’t necessarily win you a football match. Hitting the back of the net will. And France did that better. The ref had a decent call throughout I thought. And as much as we all would have enjoyed the fairytale, the result was just. + it’s in the books. VAR had nothing to do with it.

    • July 16th 2018 @ 7:20am
      Partyhat said | July 16th 2018 @ 7:20am | ! Report

      Once I saw the replays I assumed definite pen. However at half time watching the pundits (BBC in UK) they were aghast at the decision. They even read out the rule.
      I think in my head I always think “where would the ball have gone if it wasn’t handled”. In this case it was right in the mixer- therefore pen.

      • July 16th 2018 @ 1:42pm
        lunchboxexpert said | July 16th 2018 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        Yes. And if they don’t give a penalty for hand balls going into the “mixer” in front of goal then defenders will start “accidently” hand balling the ball away as the ball comes in, every time there is a good shot into the mixer. So it was given as a penalty and it should have been given as a penalty. The ref with the assistance of VAR got this decision 100% right.

        I admit in a sense it was a tough call for Croatia and the player defending considering it probably wouldn’t have been a goal to France but I also think justice was done as the Croatian player should have known to keep their hands by their side or behind their back when defending their goal. Maybe the Croatian coach should come in for some criticism as well for not understanding the interpretation of the rules at this tournament in relation to hand ball and not insisting this with his players as his post match comments seem to indicate.

    • July 16th 2018 @ 7:32am
      Blake Standfield said | July 16th 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

      This collection of words doesn’t make any case for why the penalty was a bad decision. Maybe the headline is misleading and it’s just a general summary of the match.
      I’m a big believer in momentum shifts off small moments but at 4-1 you can’t say France weren’t in the game and barely deserved to win.

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