Soccer fans file into Power & Light District to watch World Cup Final

Fans settle down to begin watching the second half of the 2018 World Cup Final between Croatia and France Sunday morning  in the Power & Light District.
Fans settle down to begin watching the second half of the 2018 World Cup Final between Croatia and France Sunday morning in the Power & Light District. The Kansas City Star

The last time France lifted the FIFA World Cup, Lea Moguet was a 1-year-old living in Lille, France.

Twenty years on, she got to witness France lift the World Cup for the second time in the nation’s history. This time, though, Moguet didn’t watch France’s 4-2 final victory over Croatia in Lille but rather in Kansas City’s Power & Light District.

“I can’t believe it; I was 1 year old last time we won,” Moguet said. “It’s like I haven’t realized it yet.”

Moguet, who moved to Minneapolis when she was 13 and is now a student at Kansas, was one of hundreds of fans who gathered in KC Power & Light Sunday morning to watch France and Croatia battle for the most-coveted prize in international sports.

As can perhaps be expected from a World Cup, the game had no shortage of drama. Goalkeeper mistakes, debatable referee decisions and world class goals filled the 90-minute affair as teenage wonder Kylian Mbappe and company shattered the dreams of Croatia fans, who were watching their team play in its first World Cup final.

“It’s a tough game; I feel like we were the better team. We lost today, but I’m still proud,” said Danijel Maracic, a native Croat who moved to America in 1999.

The drama began in the 18th minute, when Croatia’s semifinal hero Mario Mandžukić scored an own goal to give France the lead. A beautiful strike from Ivan Perišić leveled the score in the 28th minute, but disaster struck for Croatia 10 minutes later when Perišić was called for a handball in his own penalty box.

After consulting the Virtual Assistant Referee, head referee Nestor Pitana awarded France a penalty, which was casually scored by Antoine Griezmann.

“It was a penalty — it’s unfortunate, but it was. That’s part of the game, that’s what VAR is there for,” said fan Heron Santana shortly after halftime, when the score still sat at 2-1. “It was unintentional, it was a penalty. I don’t like it, but it was a penalty; I’m not going to argue it.”

Santana was one of many fans of other nations watching the game at Power & Light. Santana, a Mexico fan, had been rooting for Croatia since his own team was knocked out by Brazil in the round of 16.

“Croatian fans, they have the same passion and the same love that’s so similar to Mexican people, and so I’ve became a fan of Croatia,” Santana said. “I’ve been following Croatia throughout the whole World Cup, I’ve been making chants for them; I want them to win.”

One of those chants was “Idemo u Hrvatska,” which translates roughly to “Let’s go Croatia.” That chant was created from a Mexican chant that Santana is fond of — “Si se puede, México,” which translates roughly to “yes, we can, Mexico.”

While France ran out eventual winners, the French crowd still had respect for their counterparts in Croatia jerseys. Not only was it Croatia’s first World Cup final, but they were the second-least populated country to make a final, beat out only by Uruguay in 1950.

“4.4 million people, and it seems like they’re all here right now,” said Lucas Favreau, whose father hailed from France. Favreau could be seen jumping up and down in the middle of the Power & Light square with a French flag around his shoulders and French flags painted on his cheeks.

Even in defeat, Croatian fans were proud and humble of their team’s efforts, looking forward to the future and what this incredible World Cup run can mean.

“Even before the result, I told everybody, win or lose, we still won today,” Maracic said. “The whole world will know what Croatia is.”