Croatia are the lowest ranked team to ever make it to the 21st World Cup final. They will face France on Sunday, a team that’s so loaded with talent they’ve rarely had to exit second gear. While Croatia have expended more physical and emotional energy than anyone in the tournament, they will be more psyched than anyone could imagine to be able to play in the final.
The final line-up was determined on Wednesday, when Croatia outlasted England in extra time at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. On review, Croatia believed England underestimated them, to their downfall. This is something unlikely to happen with France, who have demonstrated some superlative defensive play. France was a favorite before the tournament and will remain so Sunday, but not by much, as they still have to show their class on the attack. The latest odds have been touted to be 60/40 in France’s favor. This is kind of remarkable, seeing as the market value of the Croatian team is a tiny fraction of France’s, who are collectively worth $1.2 billion.
With its talent depth and smooth path to the final, France will surely be the fresher team. That said, the resilient Croatian team will be on an unbelievable high, and bolstered by the emphatic support of their nation behind them. Tactics decided by the managers will certainly be a big factor in how the match plays out.
Soccer commentators expect a key part of the game will come down to the force and flair of their midfields and flanks, where stars in France’s line-up have been able to control the flow of their games so far. However, both teams have displayed unpredictable styles of play.
‘The blues’ came to Russia facing a lot to prove after losing the Euro 2016 final on home soil. Nothing less than a place in the final would’ve been acceptable to the nation’s fans. They came through, but not in the conquering flair that their line-up would have suggested. Strangely enough this hasn’t been surprising in the broader 2018 World Story, considering that no other favorites even made it to the semi-finals.
Coach Didier Deschamps has been taking a consistently conservative approach, with France slowly taking control of their games, and only scoring the goals it needed to progress. Several key goals so far have come from center backs, showing an unorthodox strategy which may make it difficult for Croatia to predict. They certainly have the flexibility to morph their play as needed.
Whether France’s tactical play will become more assertive for the final is anyone’s guess. As this is unknown territory for Croatia. Intuiting their psychological status during the game, and adapting accordingly, may be France’s best approach.
The potential starting line-up for France will be (4-3-3): Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Pogba, Kante; Mbappe, Griezmann, Matuidi; Giroud
‘The blazers’ were close to missing out on Russia altogether, as former coach Ante Čačić was fired just a couple days before their last scheduled qualifier. Part of the drama of watching Croatia so far is that they seem to get in trouble constantly, then almost magically transmute chaos into success.
The talent in their key players seems to have emerged from the indefatigable desire to win. The versatile and relentless Modrić has been a huge part of Real Madrid’s three consecutive European titles, experience which can provide a core for teammates to be inspired by. At times they have simply looked fantastic during the group stage, yet surprisingly the knockout rounds saw them struggle against outsider teams, taking them to extra time in all three games. It’s seems they thrive on a David and Goliath type showdown.
With total overtime they’ve now played the equivalent of full match more than France. Yet they stand on the brink of rewriting the possibilities of World Cup history – if they can win just one more match. Having failed to qualify or get out of the group stage for the last two decades, their performance has been the definition of unprecedented. No other up and coming team has ever won the World Cup before, but for Croatia, this is their chance.
The potential starting line-up for Croatia will be (4-3-3): Subasic; Vrsajlko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic; Modric, Brozovic, Rakitic; Perisic, Mandzukic, Rebic
If you missed the build up to the final, then check out this blog.
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