Croatia meet France at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday aiming to win a first major international trophy, while their opponents are in a third final in six World Cups and attempting to add a second title to the one they won in Paris 20 years ago. The man leading them, Didier Deschamps, is in his third tournament in charge and hoping to become only the third person to lift the trophy as a player and manager. His counterpart, Zlatko Dalic, has been Croatia manager for just nine months but is 90 minutes from winning football’s biggest prize and completing one of the more historic triumphs in World Cup history.
The Game within the Game
Kante and Pogba vs. Modric and Rakitic
Croatia’s midfield triangle has been responsible for much of its World Cup success, and will need to keep that up if it hopes to collect an upset in the Final. Modric has covered the most miles in the tournament and has been nothing short of outstanding. His leadership and delivery has been first class and his matchup with Kante is paramount to Croatia’s hopes. If Kante shuts him down, Croatia’s game is over right there. Pogba and Rakitic I wouldn’t expect to play man on man, but if Pogba can exploit his pace going forward he could cause a lot of trouble for the Croatians.
Giroud vs Lovren
Olivier Giroud has yet to score in the tournament, but sleeping on his industrious performance up top is a mistake. Dejan Lovren has branded himself “one of the best defenders in the world” based on this tournament and his Champions League run with Liverpool. If France needs to whip crosses toward Giroud, Lovren and Vida will have to be at their best.
Griezmann will be silky smooth, Mbappe will be lightning, Mandzukic is a big game player, but to me the midfield matchups have the greatest impacts. If Giroud take’s his opportunities so far throughout the tournament, France could have put teams away. Kante and Modric could easily be the best player of the tournament. They hold the keys to there Countries hope’s.
France have been good without being great for most of the tournament. However the finals have been another story, it was a fantastic all round performance against Belgium and they were electric in the round of 16 against Argentina when they could expose a flat defense. They are yet to put a complete 90 minutes together and utilize there luxury pool of talent.
Certain performances from Deschamps’ side have left fans wanting, to the point that they were booed off after their 0-0 stalemate with Denmark back in the group stage. They also only managed lacklustre narrow victories against both Australia and Peru, raising serious question marks over their potential.
Les Bleus pulled out all the stops to blow away Lionel Messi and Argentina in the round of 16 before two more professional but a little stale victories over Belgium and Uruguay.
What does it mean? It means we don’t really know what to expect from the French. They certainly have a plethora of attacking talent, and expressed their ability to use that with four goals against Argentina. But Argentina were defensively awful! With nothing left to reserve energy for, Deschamps may set his team loose to run riot over the Croatians and make them the team to beat for future tournaments. Or, more likely, he could stick with his shrewd approach that has delivered so much success and got them to the Final.
They have been fabulous to watch, there passion launches off the screen. But is it enough? They have played more minutes, used more lifelines, stress tests are becoming an everyday occurence in Zagreb. I truly believe the more a team goes through the stronger they become. Croatia is the first team in history to win 3 penalty shootouts in a row to progress to the final. The confidence and self belief that the players and team have gained from these experiences are unmatched. Yes, there legs are weary. But they are united, discipline and confident. They have broken down teams defensively, if they take their chances in front of goal you better believe this team can lift the trophy.
France (4-2-3-1): Lloris, Pavard, Umtiti, Varane, Hernandez, Pogba, Kante, Mbappe, Griezmann, Matuidi, Giroud
Croatia (4-1-4-1): Subasic, Vrsalijko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Brozovic, Rebic, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Mandzukic
The Monaco curse…
2006 – Monaco Goalkeeper Fabien Barthez lost the World Cup Final
2010 – Monaco GoalKeeper Maarten Stekelenburg lost the World Cup Final
2014 – Monaco Goalkeeper Sergio Romero lost the World Cup Final
2018 – Monaco & Croatian Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic…..
Spare a thought for Croatian striker Nikola Kalinic.
Kalinic was sent home from the World Cup after he refused to come on as a substitute during his side’s opening game, a 2-0 defeat of Nigeria. Now of AC Milan, Kalinic was sent out to warm up but said he could not take the field as he had a back injury.Croatia were not allowed to replace him, leaving them with 22.
France are easily the best side on paper. But they aren’t the best team. This game will be close, most likely a nerve racking low scoring affair. Anyone could win. Its an epic final that concludes and epic tournament. Russia have been an outstanding host. You just get the inkling that something greater than us is on Croatia’s side.
If the France on paper show up, they win. If Modric beats Kante and Croatia take there chances in front of goal, they win.
The prediction… A not to be missed game of football. Look for value.
Value Bet – Modric to score, Croatia to win $15