- France and Croatia last met in the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup. Croatia took an early lead as a miscommunication from right back Lilian Thuram kept Davor Sukor onside. Thuram responded by scoring two goals in a second half that he described as his “Miles Davis moment” where his mind and body became one, including this left foot strike that won the match. France beat Brazil in the finals, while Croatia took third in that tournament.
- In signaling the current moment, one of either the 32-year-old Luka Modric or 19 year old Kylian Mbappe will likely be awarded with the Golden Ball. The trophy will represent two different achievements with each player at opposite ends of their careers. For Modric at least, it will cement his place amongst Messi and Ronaldo as players who defined their generation.
- Though there were Croatian supporters who saw Modric missing a penalty kick against Denmark as fate. To those closely following his tax fraud case, the midfielder represents a systemic corruption that divides the Croatian domestic league due to his financial relationship with Dinamo Zagreb.
- Mbappe, on the other hand, inspires no such negative sentiment. Mentioned in the same sentences as Pele, there are some who believe he is better than Thierry Henry was at the same age.
- Paul Pogba’s tactical growth throughout the tournament has been overshadowed by Mbapee and N’Golo Kante. The midfielder says that while he isn’t at the level of Kante defensively, he’s matured into understanding his role within a cautious French side. He also credits Antoine Griezmann for helping develop his positional discipline.
- Pogba says that his teammates were overconfident in the buildup to the 2016 Euro final as they believed they had already won the trophy after beating Germany in the semifinals. Portugal won 1-0 in extra time.
- Zlatko Dalic admitted that he never imagined Croatia would reach the World Cup Final. His last piece of advice to his team will be to “have a good time”.
- There are no surprises in either lineup with both sides setting out in their 4-3-3 shape prioritizing efficiency and transitions.
- Modric and Rakitic are pressing high up on Pogba and Kante to begin the match with Modric fouling twice in the opening minutes. The match begins as expected with Croatia applying pressure and France happy to sit back.
- Mbappe’s game is built on the simplicity and efficiency of speed, a simple drop of the shoulder, and acceleration.
- Samuel Umtiti has been essential in cleaning up opposition crosses into the box when France’s backline is beaten.
- In a tournament defined by set pieces, there was a foreboding feeling as Antoine Griezmann drew a needless foul from Marcelo Brozovic to open scoring.
- Perisic responds by setting up his own set piece goal, as well as getting a yellow card on Kante. Perisic’s goal was a sequence of world class technique, starting with the touch to create an angle inside a crowded area, then the left foot blast into the side net.
- Cruelly, Perisic gives away a penalty soon after. Griezmann had a stretch where he missed four out of six penalties, including this off the crossbar against Real Madrid in the 2016 Champions League Final.
- Griezmann impacting the match off a free kick and penalty encapsulates the quiet yet essential role he’s played for France throughout the tournament.That Griezmann is overshadowed by Kante and Mbappe shows France’s depth, but like Pogba and Giroud, that a player of his attacking quality is willing to sacrifice that instinct for defensive solidity symbolizes their unity. While asking for that same compromise may not work over an entire domestic season due to player egos and salaries, it is palatable over a seven match sprint.
- Yet Pogba crediting Griezmann and Kante for developing his discipline shows how Deschamps has created a structure for players to grow into. And of course, Pogba brings his natural instincts of ball shielding and long range passing to transcend his role.
- Back to the match: what can Croatia change in the second half? The 2-1 scoreline doesn’t indicate any tactical wrongdoing as much as displaying France’s individual quality.
- Surprisingly, Deschamps is more proactive in defining the match by subbing off both Kante and Matuidi for Steven N’Zonzi and Corentin Tolisso. The substitutions also show the manager’s trust in Pogba to hold together a midfield while maintaining a lead.
- The combination of Pogba’s long ball accuracy with Mbappe’s pace and dribbling is the most exciting transition in soccer. While Pogba ended up scoring the decisive goal, it’s this backline splitting pass to Mbappe off a volley that highlights his technique and awareness in transition that France built their counter attack upon.
- Mbappe joins Pele in the record books again in becoming the second teenager to score in a World Cup final.
- Between Loris Karius’ botched rollout in the Champions League finals, Willy Caballero’s misplaced chip against Croatia, and Hugo Lloris’ indecision, goalkeeping blunders may be more common next season as managers insist on using the position to maintain possession.
- Croatia made their first sub in the 71st minute, down 4-2, swapping strikers.
- Stylistically, the match played out as we predicted with Croatia ending with 66% possession. France scoring four goals with 34% possession and six shots on target represented a counter attacking approach that complimented the strength of their individual players.
- Modric received the Golden Ball as expected. As a late bloomer in the public consciousness, it will be interesting to see how we describe his play during this upcoming season at Real Madrid, how his performances in this World Cup recontextualize his career thus far, and what effect - if any - his upcoming perjury trial has in how we perceive him in hindsight.
- With a core in their late 20s and early 30s, and Mbappe turning 23 years old, it’s easy to get carried away by France’s potential in the 2022 World Cup. But Germany were in a similar position four years ago, and they taught us how quickly a side can age and grow stale during that time.
- In comparing this French side amongst recent World Cup winners in Spain and Germany, one wonders how differently they were perceived since they didn’t have the philosophical branding of a tiki taka or gegenpressing behind them. But they were dominant, only trailing for a total of nine minutes throughout the tournament. Compared to those two recent winners, this is a deep, skilled side that defends and hits quickly on counter attacks, led by a teenager already named alongside the greatest strikers in the sport’s history.
A World Cup Abstract: France 4, Croatia 2