Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic says the referee was wrong to award a controversial penalty to France in the teams’ World Cup final in Moscow, but says it did not diminish from France’s comprehensive 4-2 victory.
Dalic guided Croatia to their first-ever World Cup final, but they went down to a 4-2 defeat to France thanks to an own goal from Mario Mandzukic, a penalty from Antoine Griezmann, and second-half goals from Paul Pogba and teenage star Kylian Mbappe, although Ivan Perisic and Mandzukic got on the scoresheet in reply.
The game was not without controversy, however, in particular when Argentinian referee Nestor Pitana awarded France a penalty for handball with the scores level at 1-1 in the first half.
The decision was made with the help of the video assistant referee (VAR) system, which was being used at the World Cup for the first time in Russia, although it was contentious as the ball struck Croatian player Ivan Perisic’s hand from minimal distance, with his arm not appearing to be in an unnatural position.
Croatia boss Dalic said that the decision was too debatable to be given in such a high-stakes situation.
“First, I have to congratulate France,” Dalic said. “We played well, the first 20 minutes we controlled the game, then there was the own goal [from Mandzukic], we came back, we dominated, and then the penalty was given.
“I never comment on refereeing, but let me say one sentence, in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty.”
He added, however, that the decision had “in no way diminished France’s win.”
The 51-year-old paid tribute to his players for reaching the World Cup final for the first time in the nation’s history, and by coming through three knockout games in a row that had gone to extra time.
“I have to congratulate my players, maybe it was the best game that we played in this championships, we controlled the match, but against such strong sides as France you must not make mistakes, we are a bit sad but we have to be proud for what we’ve done,” Dalic said.
Dalic was appointed as Croatia manager in October 2017 with the team’s World Cup qualifying hopes in the balance, but he went on to guide the team to Russia via a playoff win against Greece.
He will no doubt be a hot property for clubs looking to lure him from international football, but when asked about his own plans following the tournament, Dalic said what he needed most was rest before making any decisions on his future.
“What I’m ready for now is a bit of a rest, it’s been a tough period but it was beautiful for the lads… I’ll take a timeout, take a breather, I’ll never take decisions over night.”
Whatever Dalic decides, he’ll always be remembered for the wonderful summer in Russia in which he led his nation to the heights of the World Cup final.