The 1998 champions will be up against a team that has gotten to the showpiece the hard way.
After nearly a month where we have seen the rise of new stars, new tactical approaches, upsets of the highest level and controversy, the World Cup in Russia has boiled down to two sides that have gotten to this stage the hard way.
France, with their star-studded squad, flattered to deceive in the early stages of the World Cup, but found their feet in the knockout rounds and defeated Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium on their way to the biggest stage in football. Croatia have had relatively simpler opposition, but have played a grand total of 360 minutes of football in the knockout phase, but have shown no signs of tiredness.
But how will the two sides shape up tactically for the final?
France will be using Mbappe’s pace a lot to exploit Croatia defensively
France’s 4-2-3-1 system with target man Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe playing off Olivier Giroud, has got Les Blues ticking in the knockout phase. A prime reason for this has been Blaise Matuidi’s role in an inside left midfield position, that allows for him to cover the left flank for Griezmann and Lucas Hernandez to cause overloads on that flank. Paul Pogba’s role will be critical for France’s chances as the Manchester United man is the creative link between defence and attack. Didier Deschamps has given Pogba the license to bomb forward with a doorbolt in the form of N’Golo Kante.
But, it has been the unleashing of Mbappe that has paid the most dividends for Deschamps. His pace from the right wing is something that Croatia will no doubt be wary of. A sign of things to come was seen in the semi-final against England when Kieran Trippier and Raheem Sterling repeatedly left Ivan Strinic for dead and it is going to get no easier with Mbappe. Griezmann himself is no spring chicken and it would be his pace that can potentially unsettle Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida.
But, what Croatia lack in defense is what they compensate for with an extremely hard-working and vibrant attack. With a midfield that is capable of transforming into a highly potent 3-4-3 from a 4-1-4-1, Zlatko Dalic’s men are ones that have shown themselves to have a will of steel. England and Russia’s attempts to decrease Luka Modric‘s influence have only seen the team adapt itself to give Modric as much time on the ball as possible to influence play.
The front three of Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, and Ante Rabic. when on song, are an extremely dangerous attacking unit. With Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard needing to get forward to provide France width, it leaves them open in the full-back areas, where Rebic and Sime Vrsajko, Perisic and Strinic have room to stretch the France backline. It is a sign of just how much energy is still in this side, given that Croatia have played the equivalent of an extra match compared to France and will seemingly be the ones who will look jaded. But, this is the country’s first ever World Cup final and that in itself should be enough for the Croats to give it their all.
However, the French defence is one that has been miserly in the quarter and semi-finals. Plus the defence has the luxury of the new-found defensive side of Paul Pogba and the tireless workhorse Kante. It is important that Croatia break with speed as they have shown in the game against England to unsettle France or risk losing the battle against a side that has shown to be devastatingly effective.