I don’t know how it happened so fast, but there is only one meaningful game left in the World Cup (because let’s be honest, nobody cares about the 3rd place game).
On paper, France is by far the more talented group of players, however if soccer has ever taught us anything, it’s to never underestimate a team whose names all end in “ic” or “ov”. The Russians and Croatians have proved that this summer. Croatia will be coming into Sunday’s clash having played three consecutive games that required 120 minutes of playing time. France on the other hand have had all of their games end after 90 minutes, so the Croatians have essentially played an entire extra match. If the game comes down to who still has gas in the tank, the French certainly have the edge.
The key matchup in this game will the battle in the middle of the park. The two starting lineups will feature, in my opinion, 5 of the 10 best central midfielders in the world. Whichever team can dominate no man’s land, will come out on top.
Keys to the game…
France: Kylian Mbappe & co.
The three pronged French attacking force is lead by 19 year old forward Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe has scored three goals on six shots this tournament, and is the creative mastermind of the French attack. With the Croatian defense being big, physical, and at times a bit heavy legged, Mbappe should be able to cut through them with ease when he turns on the jets. If running at defenders gives them no joy, France can look to their battering ram, Olivier Giroud. Although Giroud has not scored yet this tournament, his ability to win balls in the air and hold the play up is crucial to allow his speedier teammates like Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to make runs off him into the free spaces. If France is to have any attacking success, their dynamic front three will all have to pitch in.
Croatia: Midfield Dominance
The midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are the key to Croatian success. Squaring off with their French counterparts will be the toughest test yet. After having to suffer through three consecutive 120 minute games, Croatia will have to control the tempo to have any chance. The French backline has been very hard to unlock all tournament, but if anybody can pick the incisive pass to do that, it is Modric. Everything will run through those two, however they will have to be wary of France’s ability to counter attack.
It will most likely be a cagy match, however I feel that France have the physical edge and will pull through as victors.