Didier Deschamps' France look good for second World Cup triumph when they take on Croatia for the World Cup final on Sunday. France, who brought the second youngest squad to Russia along with England, are the lone pre-tournament favourites who have survived the 'Curse of Russia'.
Croatia, on the other hand, defied all the odds to reach their first World Cup final. Blessed with the best midfield in the competition, the Balkan state had some close encounters in the knockout stages before they found their way.
Though the French side look sorted ahead of the finale but still they have to be wary of the Croatian side and avoid looking over-confident.
Here’s a look at the four factors which may be decisive in the final and also might end up choosing the eventual winner.
For Les Bleus both their attack and the defence have impressed throughout the tournament. If Greizmann and Mbappe have scored three goals each then Varane and and Umtiti scored two decisive goals in the quarters and semis respectively. Not only scoring goals, France have also been stingy in their own half with goalie Lloris leading the charge. Hugo Lloris has managed to keep a clean sheet against Uruguay and the Belgians, who could do no wrong in the goal scoring department until last Tuesday when they met the French team in the semis. In fact, Lloris has saved each of the last seven shots on target that he has faced. That said, France’s goal-scoring ability will be their prime strength going into the final.
Croatia’s midfield might end up being stuff of legend if they go past France on Sunday in the final. Not only in the build-up, the Croatian midfield comprising captain Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have netted three goals for the side. Croatian coach Dalic hit the sweet spot with his plan of playing Modric up in a more attacking role. The move has borne dividend for the side. Modric’s ability of being comfortable on the ball with both feet may become a headache for France and adding to that are the different kind passes in his armoury. One of the few in this World Cup who can pass the ball both forward and sideways, Modric’s range is limitless and he being at the centre of the Croatian midfield France might need to be wary of him.
Going into the final, the French side looks like a well-oiled machinery and have hardly shown any signs of weakness. Whether it be scoring goals, saving goals, making a comeback after going down, Didier Deschamps and his boys have all things sorted. Since the start of the competition, France have trailed in a game for a total of only nine minutes and that speaks volume about the quality of the side.
Modric and his side could not manage to win their last three games in regular time. They won their round of 16 match against Denmark as well quarterfinal match host Russia on penalties. In the semi-final, they beat England in extra time. Therefore, fatigue from their previous three matches might end up being a deciding factor. Another thing, which may be a cause of concern, will be the age difference of both the sides. France will surely have an upper hand if the match again goes past regular time.
France will look to cash in on the youth advantage. Croatia, on the other hand, have looked vulnerable at the start and take their own sweet time to get in the groove. France can look to make good use of this anomaly to pump in few goals, making it impossible for the Croats to make a comeback. The French side have conjured up something new in every match, so Croatia are bound to take some time before they get used to the French tactics.
The French side have got their game right in every department. It would be difficult for Croatia to contain them as well as score goals against them. So, Croatia have to be really strong and pro-active in their counter attacks.
Croatian captain Luka Modric will be France’s primary threat. A pocket-sized dynamite, Modric has the ability to anticipate the position of his teammates without even looking up. Not only does he score fantastic goals, he is always a lurking danger as he can put the ball in the net at any moment or set up a dangerous assist. France has to ensure that Modric does not get the time and space to play a perfect ball to his teammates. Apart from Modric, Croatia always depend on Mario Mandzukic for goals. Mandzukic will always wait for the right ball, so the big French defence have to be alert and mark him well all through the match.
Croatia have to keep a special eye on Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe for obvious reasons. If Mbappe is known for his great pace and the electric surge forward, then Griezmann’s accuracy in shooting, especially from outside the box is second to none in the competition. Both will look to score the winner for France. An ageing Croatian defense might have a tough time to slow down Mbappe, so they would need a dedicated marker for him.
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