IT WAS all going Croatia's way - until it wasn't.

Zlatko Dalic's men were the better side but that doesn't always count for much in football, as they found out the hard way, going down to France 4-2 in the World Cup final.

And sparking the heartbreaking defeat was a contentious moment that saw football fans blast French star Antoine Griezmann for what they believed was a blatant act of cheating.

Croatia threatened France in the opening minutes, finding space at will down the left as Ivan Perisic ran riot. But the early attacking opportunities were quickly forgotten when the referee blew a free kick for Griezmann, ruling he was brought down by a challenge just outside the box.

The gifted striker whipped the ball into the penalty area and Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic made history for all the wrong reasons when he became the first player to score an own goal in a World Cup final, failing to make clean contact with a defensive header.

The ball skipped off his head and into the back of the net to gift Les Bleus a 1-0 lead against the run of play.

Antoine Griezmann came under heavy fire.
Antoine Griezmann came under heavy fire.

When Griezmann tumbled, Croatian players pleaded with the referee to wave play on, claiming he had dived. The man in charge ignored them but a look at the replays suggested they were right, as Griezmann appeared to go down despite barely being touched.

That sparked a huge backlash against the left-footed French talisman, who came under fire for giving his team the advantage in unfair fashion.

Former England footballer Trevor Brooking was one of many who accused Griezmann of diving to win the free kick.

"I am so annoyed. It was never, ever a free kick. Griezmann hardly got touched. He has cheated to get the free kick," Brooking told the BBC.

The controversy didn't end there as another cruel decision that went against Croatia later in the first half angered fans and commentators, who believed the men in red and white were hard done by again.

Perisic levelled things up at 1-1 with a bullet into the bottom corner but he went from hero to villain when his hand, rather than boot, became a hot topic.

Griezmann whipped in a corner but instead of the ball going out harmlessly for a goal kick or another corner, as the referee was going to rule, his attention was turned to a possible handball.

The officials upstairs got in his ear and he went to the sideline to use the VAR. Play was stopped for several minutes as the referee examined a host of slow-motion replays from various angles to see whether the ball struck Perisic's hand.

It had done, and France won a penalty which Griezmann calmly slotted to make it 2-1.

Former Socceroo David Zdrilic said on SBS the right call was made.

"Look, you know, you have to say, it is the final moment where he puts his hand. He's surprised because the flick doesn't come," Zdrilic said halftime.

SBS commentator Martin Tyler said: "You would say it is the kind of penalty decision that would not have been given before VAR and whether that's what we have to get used to now, well, maybe many of you think that's the right way."

Opinion was split on whether the correct call was made, with ex-Australian star Ned Zelic labelling the decision a "joke" on Twitter. Many pundits argued that because everything is slowed down with the VAR, it looked like Perisic had more time to get his arm out of the way than he actually did.

Critics of the penalty decision said it was impossible for Perisic to react quicker and move his arm out of the path of the ball - which was obvious in real time, but not in replays.

Fans on social media were outraged at the perceived double standards on show. They questioned why the VAR was used to check on the handball call, but wasn't used to confirm Griezmann had dived for France's first goal.

In the end France took its chances but Croatia didn't, and that was the difference. But like it has done all tournament, the introduction of the VAR for the first time at a World Cup will ensure the discussion continues well after the final whistle is blown.

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