On Sunday, France and Croatia will meet in Moscow to determine the winners of this years World Cup Final. Here, we preview the game and what to expect from both sides in this massive occasion.
Croatia are in the World Cup Final for the first time in their history, where France are looking to add to their solitary World Cup Final win in 1998. After Croatia playing 120 minute games three times in succession, France will be expected to be the fresher outfit. A World Cup Final was never won because a team was better rested however – this battle comes down to control of the ball, tactics and ability.
On Wednesday night, England’s long balls to Raheem Sterling should be replicated by France to Kylian Mbappe. Domagoj Vida dealt very well with Sterling when the long ball was played to him. Yes, England won a few throw ins from this effort, but Vida was comfortable in dealing with the threat overall.
When Sterling got the ball from such situations, there were very few options for him. Mbappe’s hold up play is fantastic – even at 19 – he really is a complete player. He will pose a completely different threat to Sterling. If Mbappe gets the ball in similar situations on Sunday, he will be able to bring players into the game more. If that’s not an option, he has more than enough ability to turn either Vida or Dejan Lovren and showcase his direct playing style and set down on Danijel Subasic’s goal.
The middle of the park battle will be interesting. France’s quality here shone through against Belgium and it was the same for Croatia against England. France will have N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi up against Croatia’s Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
These six midfielders all play with top European clubs. Either of these midfield trio are more than capable of controlling the ball and dictating the tempo of the match. There is a possibility they will nullify eachother and share control in this World Cup Final. Antoine Griezmann dropping into midfield may shift the play in favour of France however.
France have greater quality in depth; being able to bring on likes of Ousmane Dembele, Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso. Florian Thauvin, who contributed to 44 goals last season for Marseille, has only played a single minute in this World Cup; this is the level of France’s quality in numbers. Granted, Croatia are able to bring on Mateo Kovacic, Milan Badelj and Marko Pjaca but these are all midfield players.
As good as Hugo Lloris has been at this World Cup, I still don’t trust him. When games go into the melting pot, too often for Spurs has he booted a ball over the touchline trying to find a player. A slight panic comes into play when he receives the ball in these moments and is capable of anything as far as I’m concerned.
I will never question his shot stopping ability – he’s one of the best in this regard! He is capable of panicking at important situations however – similar to the way Pepe Reina was/is. Expect Croatia to continue their high press – particularly when Lloris is on the ball and retreat once it has been cleared. The issue with this, is there is the possibility of isolating Mbappe against Vida or Lovren – I’m sure two central midfielders will be encouraged to cover for such situations however.
A lot of Croatia’s best chances have come from crosses out wide. The biggest problem for them here is that France’s two centre backs in Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti have been superb – not just during the World Cup – but for their clubs all season. Along with Marc Bartra of Real Betis, they have been the best centre backs in La Liga this past season.
For Croatia to play through the middle, they need another player to partner up with Mario Mandzukic. To do this however, they will need to sacrifice a creative and controlling midfielder. When they have tried partnering Andrej Kramaric with Mandzukic – particularly against Russia – they lost a lot of control in central midfield. This forced Rakitic and Modric to play in a double pivot thus, nullifying their best attributes – creating space and opportunities. For that reason, I see Croatia continuing with Mandzukic up front on his own.
They will need to dramatically improve the quality of their crosses however. Sime Vrsaljko’s ball for Ivan Perisic’s goal against England in the 68th minute, was the first good cross they played all night. Ivan Strinic, who it looks like he might miss Sunday’s World Cup Final, was very poor with his delivery. His replacement, Josip Pivaric was certainly an improvement on this regard.
Overall, it is difficult to see where Croatia will score from. France’s defending has been brilliant. Their full backs are great defending one-on-one situations – even though both Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are centre backs really. Once the ball does go into the box, they have Varane and Umtiti playing at their peak. Should they look to play through the middle, they have to deal with the football-vacuum that is Ngolo Kante. Croatia really need to be pin-point accurate with their crossing on Sunday should they win this game.
They do also pose a threat from long range strikes – particularly in Ivan Perisic. His few efforts form deep against England weren’t great, but gave a taste of what he’s capable of. Luka Modric’s strike against Argentina is another sample of their long range threat. You can dismiss Dejan Lovren’s effort against England however.
Griezmann will have a big role in the winning of this World Cup Final for France. He is the best link between midfield and attack. His ability has been brought into question during this World Cup due to the lack of goals scored however, his general play has been fantastic. Against Belgium in particular, he dropped into midfield.
His one touch passing with Pogba and Kante created a lot of space for runners. Have a look at the chance Pogba created for Mbappe; where a long through ball was played but Thibaut Courtois came out quick to cancel it out. Take a look at Griezmann’s quick play and even quicker thinking in the build up to Pogba’s pass – a perfect representation to what he adds to this French midfield.
Going back to my initial statement that France should look to isolate Mbappe against Vida or Lovren, Griezmann can play a big role in this coming to fruition. Taking the same idea above in that Griezmann drops into midfield to create space for not only the midfielders, but for both Mbappe and Oliver Giroud also. This is going to be something Didier Deschamps hones in on, as he looks to become a World Cup Final winner as both a player and manager.
On top of this, the Atletico Madrid forward is an expert deliverer from dead balls. Take a look at the goal Varane scored from a free kick delivered by Griezmann against Uruguay. The stuttered run up isn’t a rethinking of his delivery – this is purposeful. Griezmann weighs up the initial movement of the Uruguayan defenders and plays out where the space will present itself. Varane obviously expertly heads the ball into the net, but it shows the level of Griezmann’s intelligence to go about it in this manner.
Overall, it is very difficult to look beyond France winning this World Cup Final. The few conditions under which Croatia have a chance is; by Hugo Lloris making a mess up, scoring from long distance or else dramatically improving the level of their crossing. France on the other hand, should set up in a way to isolate Mbappe against Vida and Lovren. Griezmann’s play in midfield will be key in this being effective. The Atleti forward’s delivery from dead balls will also be a cause for concern for Croatia. The last month has been a great festival of football with big teams disappointed on a number of occasions – this final doesn’t have the two favourites – but should be a great spectacle all the same.