By Niall Clarke
- France vs Croatia Preview
- France are aiming for their second World Cup title, Croatia their first
- Kick off 16:00 BST on Sunday July 15th
Moscow, Russia – We are down to the big one as France take on Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final. Who will be crowned World Champions? We break down the biggest match in football and cast our prediction on who will lift the trophy.
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Of the 32 teams that started the tournament on the 13th of June, only two remain. France and Croatia have seen off all that have stood in their way and now face each other for the right to be called World Champions.
Les Bleus have tasted success on the World stage before, 20 years ago to be exact. That team with the likes of Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane saw off Brazil 3-0 in front of their home fans to lift their first and only World Cup trophy. Now this side led by Didier Dechamps, who was apart of that title winning side, look to make their own history.
This has been tipped as France’s Golden Generation, and when you look at the talent amongst their ranks you can understand why. Alongside experienced faces such as Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann stand the players that will lead France into the next decade like Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. This is a roster that has all the makings of a successful team that can replicate what the great side of 1998 did, anything less will not do.
France came into the tournaments as one of the favourites but did not play like it until the knockout stages. They walked through their Group without kicking into gear, but an Mbappe inspired France came to life when they defeated Argentina 4-3 in one of the games of the tournament. Les Bleus then put in a pair of disciplined performances to see off Uruguay 2-0 and Belgium 1-0 to book their place in Sunday’s final.
Like France, Croatia have great memories of 1998 themselves. After only five years since becoming an independent country, a Croatian side led by Davor Suker finished third in a memorable run to the semi finals. Many Croatians did not expect to see that replicated anytime soon, but this team has not only matched their 1998 run, they have surpassed it. Now a country of only four million people are one win away from becoming World Champions, and what a story it would be for this small nation.
Croatia were arguably the best team of the group stages, coming through a difficult group with a 100% record. They went from a side that could do some damage to genuine contenders for the title after the group stages, but the knockout rounds proved to be more difficult. Croatia went the full 120 minutes three times as they defeated Denmark and Russia on penalties before overcoming England 2-1 in the final four.
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France have tended to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Olivier Giroud the sole striker. Mbappe, Griezmann and likely Blaise Matuidi will play behind the Chelsea man, ahead of a midfield partnership of Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
When forced to defend, the French will possibly switch to a 4-3-3 with Matuidi dropping into midfield and Griezmann drifting wide left. This gives more solidarity to the midfield and essentially creates a line of four and three for the opposition to break down. The front three will then be used as an outlet for counter attacks, with the pace of Mbappe being a real threat on the break.
France’s full backs push high, especially Benjamin Pavard who will look to run beyond Mbappe and link up with the 19 year old. That means there will be space on that side to be exploited so look for Kante to cover when this happens.
When in possession, look or Pogba to be a focal point when it comes to creating attacks. The Manchester United midfielder will look for the runs of the forward line and will drive forward into space with the ball to join the attack. On the wings, Mbappe will look to cause havoc with his pace to create goalscoring opportunities for himself, Griezmann and Giroud.
Croatia have switched between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3 this tournament depending on the opposition. The difference between the two is whether they opt to play Andrej Kramaric behind Mario Mandzukic with Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric as pivots, or have Marcelo Brozovic has a holding midfielder allowing their two central midfielders to push up with cover. Against France we will likely see the latter as Zlatko Dalic will be aware of the threat the opposition have going forward.
As a possession based team, Croatia’s midfield paring of Rakitic and Modric are key to their system. They will often drift around the pitch to pick up the ball and look for the wingers Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic so they can either cross the ball to Madzukic or cut inside and shoot.
The left hand side will be key for Croatia as Mbappe tends to stay forward, meaning Pavard can often be isolated on the right hand side. Defensively they will press the fullbacks high and try keep Mbappe facing his own goal so he can not turn and run at them.
France prefer to play on the counter where they can move the ball quickly and use the pace of Mbappe and Griezmann to create chances. With Croatia’s willingness to get forward, there is an opportunity for them to break and hit them with devastating counters.
Do not be surprised to see Croatia control the ball in this game and have more possession as France are likely to sit back and use the counter attack, much like they did against Argentina in the last 16 and Belgium in the semi finals.
Croatia are a good team, and to see them do this well after years of under-achieving is great. Some people under-estimated them against England and many will also under-estimate their chances against France too, but this team can not be counted out. They are a quality side with a lot of talent, and above all that they have the desire to go all the way.
For the French it is as much about burying the demons of 2016 where they lost the European Championship final in front of their home fans as anything else. They were heavy favourites for that encounter but did not perform under pressure. Will that affect them in this final? Or will it prove to be an extra motivator?
Croatia’s style plays into France’s hands. As we have seen this tournament, they like to keep the ball and go forward whilst the French prefer to counter. If Croatia play their usual style then it should suit Les Bleus to a tee which spells bad news for the Croatians.
France have also been solid defensively with Raphael Varane having an excellent tournament. He should be able to keep Mandzukic quiet, and the space left by Modric and Rakitic should allow Pogba to dictate the midfield and bring Mbappe and Griezmann into the game.
Finals are usually cagey affairs as both teams do not want to make a costly mistake and I expect that here too. The extra quality the French possess should get them over the line though, and they will go on to lift their second World Cup trophy.
Prediction: France 2-0 Croatia
France face Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final on Sunday July 15th at 15:00 BST
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