The ultimate match of the international footballing stage is finally here, and it’s shaping up to be a classic David vs. Goliath scenario. France return to the World Cup Final 12 years after cruelly losing out to Italy on penalties in 2006. Croatia on the other hand, will have their first taste of a World Cup Final, and how sweet would it be if they won?
[divider]Les Bleus – The Blues[/divider] France have relied heavily on their resolute defense and ability to control the midfield to win games. They’ve only conceded 4 goals this campaign, 1 during their opening match against Australia, and 3 during an epic comeback against Argentina. They have kept 4 clean sheets out of the 6 matches played, and have scored 10 goals along the way. Hugo Lloris may not have had much to do, but this World Class goalkeeper has saved his team when it’s mattered the most.
Don’t be fooled by the youth of the French back line. An average age of 23 does not reflect the quality of the core players in the defense. Pavard and Hernandez have been tireless fullbacks, keeping up with pacey wingers and shackling technical wide forwards. Varane and Umtiti will come together from rival clubs for international duties to form a formidable defensive bedrock for at least the next 3 major tournaments.
Ngolo Kante’s meteoric rise is by no means down to luck. The diminutive defensive midfielder was plying his trade in France’s third division five years ago. Arguably the best player in his position, he is now rightfully a key player for both club and country. It’s almost unfair for someone to possess such superior physical attributes in terms of speed, strength and stamina. Did I mention; he’s also a decent passer and has the tactical mind to break up attacks coming his way.
Say what you want about Paul Pogba, but you can’t deny that he has flourished under the tutelage of Didier Deschamps this campaign. The midfield powerhouse has displayed his skill, creativity and above all – his maturity this tournament. If Pogboom can continue his form and class on to the finals, alongside Kante – the middle of the park will be painted blue.
The attacking duo of Mbappe and Griezmann have registered 6 goals so far. On one hand, we have Mbappe who is picking up the pace as the tournament comes along, and we have Griezmann who has seen a dip in form ever since the match against Uruguay. Giroud has yet to get on the score sheet but has proven useful with his target man role. His ability to hold the ball, win offensive aerial challenges and link up with his quicker team mates justifies his 6 matches played thus far.
If Griezmann is able to shift gears and pick up his form, he’d form a formidable strike force alongside Mbappe who looks like he’s hit top gear. Not discounting Giroud, he has an uncanny knack of scoring when you’d least expect him to.
[divider]Vatreni – The Blazers[/divider] Croatia might seem like underdogs going in to the Finals, though they have scored more goals than their counterparts this campaign. Their strength seems to lie in the ability to outscore an opponent and having the resilience to see a game through extra-time and penalty shootouts. To be able to have done this three times this tournament shows great mental strength. Nonetheless, it also means that the players have endured an additional 90 minutes of gruelling extra time. It’s not a long competition and recovery time between games is limited, naturally putting them at a disadvantage going up against a French side which has completed all their matches within 90 minutes.
Easily a fan favourite, goalkeeper Subasic has been pivotal in getting Croatia to the finals. His heroics during the two penalty shootouts have kept them alive in the competition and he’d hope to carry on his inspired form to the finals. In the unlikely event the match does come to a penalty shootout, my money is on Croatia.
Captain Luka Modric has had a sensational campaign. The two goals and one assist to his name do not reflect the magnitude of how he impacts his team. As a midfield maestro, he is constantly looking to drop deep to receive the ball, making the players around him tick like clockwork and initiating offensive manoeuvres higher up the pitch. The 32 year old has played 604 minutes so far over 6 games, his country can only hope the fatigue is dispelled and he’s fresh for the finals.
Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic have been a handful for opponents down the flank and through the middle. Aged 29 and 30 – both players are at the peak of their powers. Perisic has scored 2 goals and registered 1 assist. His direct style of attacking makes it difficult to defend against him at times. He has good technique which makes his crossing and shooting a problem for opponents. Rakitic’s ability to pass within tight pockets and make space for his teammates makes him an invaluable asset to the team. He rarely loses the ball when in possession, keeps it neat and tidy, and has a penchant for setting up dangerous attacking moves.
Veteran striker Mario Mandzukic has played 518 minutes over 5 games so far, however his experience has proved to be his greatest asset. He scored the winning goal against England in extra time and will definitely be looking to bully the younger defenders of the French squad. Standing at 1.9m, he makes for an excellent target man as well – should he be left unmarked for a cross, there is a high chance he will convert it in to a goal.
Croatia’s biggest challenge will be overcoming a physically superior opponent, and given that they have played more football this campaign – it puts them at a handicap. They can match the French in terms of technique, and might be looking to use their experience to gain a foothold against a relatively young French squad. As underdogs competing in their first World Cup Final match, Croatia will definitely be pumped going in to the game. Determination and spirit have often been deciders of key games at the highest level, and they’ll not be short in those departments.
Catch Croatia VS France on the 15th of July at 11pm +8 GMT!
And before that, catch Belgium VS England on the 14th of July at 11pm +8 GMT for the third place play-off!