The climax is all set for Sunday as France takes on Croatia for the final war on the field. It will be a fight between the most balanced side of the tournament, France versus the slow, steady but effective performance of a “never-surrender” team of Croatia. However, as the war generals will say that a war is won only after winning a number of battles, let us explore the battle zones that needs to be won on Sunday night before anyone touches the coveted World Cup!
French attack zone on the right
With the strength of Mbappe playing on the right hand side, it is nobody’s surprise that France prefers to attack more from the right. So far, 42% of the attack has come from that side, with Mbappe aided by either the drifting Griezmann or properly fed by Kante and Pogba from the withdrawn halves. The strength of their attack lies with the tremendous burst of acceleration from Mbappe along with the swift dribbles that he can do at that speed.
To counter that, we will see Strinic and Vida play up and try not to give any space to Mbappe. However, to both of them in their 30’s now, speed in their defensive tackles might not be their great strength, specially when coming up to the prospect of facing an opposition who will rely greatly on their speed. While Strinic has been quite strong in the tackles averaging 2 per match, Vida’s strength has been on the interceptions with average 2 per match. So the combination of two will have to not only narrow down the space for Mbappe, but also be capable enough to block the long balls that might be coming in that region.
On the other hand, if Croatia wins the battle in this zone, they can feed to the attacks from their left flanks. Actually, 45% of their attacks has happened through the left utilizing Perisic and Rakitic with a drifting Modric coming to that zone quite often. Therefore the impact of the outcome of this zone will be a big deciding factor for the match.
The midfield battle zone
There is no doubt who will be the midfield general from Croatia’s side. Modric with his outstanding play in this world cup will typically play on the right side aided by Rebic on the flank and perhaps a bit of a floating Rakitic to aid when required. By doing so, it is highly likely that Modric will face up Kante of France and that will be the two best midfielders battling it out in the middle.
While Modric’s exploits are now almost legendary in this world cup, Kante has been highly successful in blocking up key attacking midfielders from the opposition. Kante has averaged 5.5 tackles and interceptions in this world cup, which will be amongst the highest and most effective amongst all. He has been successful in locking up great players like Leo Messi and De Bruyne in the knockout rounds. He will look back on his performances and will no doubt draw inspiration to keep Modric silent and ineffective as far as possible in the finals. This battle will have the most profound effect on the game.
Battle zone in the final third
As is evident in the previous matches, if you have genuine strikers who have physical and aerial impacts, the final third is always the place where you will have the most important battle of scoring goals. Even though Giroud is kind of out of touch with no goals and just one assist, he is a striker who can disturb the defense so much that it can create space for Griezman, Matuidi and Mbappe to exploit. On the other hand, with an in-form Mandzukic lurking in the final third, the French defense of Varane, Umiti will have their hands full. Any slippage or an unforced error might lead to deadly consequences.
Modern football attacks also include the overlapping sidebacks and both teams have quality players to make an impact in the final third. Sime Vrsaljko had been outstanding in the game against England and time and time again, he exploited the right hand side which left Young exposed many a times. Similarly, Pavard has been brilliant for France from the right side as well and his exploits against Argentina was exemplary.
The final battle zone is outside the pitch – fatigue
After playing three consecutive 120 minutes grueling matches and having one day less rest, Croatia will definitely feel the impact of fatigue and tiredness. This was seen in the semifinals when they were slow and sluggish in the first half which could have had more impact if England could capitalize their half chances to put the match beyond Croatia’s reach. Against France, Croatia just cannot afford any moment of lack of concentration or tiredness – because this French team has that quality to punish severely for these mistakes. Therefore it remains to be seen how Croatia wins this battle, even though they will have the big inspiration of creating history!
Let the best team win!
As a football lover and as a “neutral”, we hope to see an entertaining battle in the finals on Sunday. France probably will rely more on fast counterattacks against a tiring opponent, since they have their strength of great speed and stamina. Croatia will try and control the pace of the game with the hope that their deep probing crosses might find Mandzukic or Perisic at the right place. If the scores are equal and the game progresses along, with more time France will have more edge of scoring with Croatia feeling the impact of long matches.
At the eve of the match, it looks like Croatia will have more problems to solve and so it looks more like advantage France!