Gallant Croatia undone by France’s star quality


Football is a game of clichés. Indeed, one of the oldest ones in the book suggests that intelligent coaching and tactical systems can only take a team so far; world class players are the real difference makers. And so it proved tonight as France secured a second FIFA World Cup trophy after defeating Croatia 4-2 in Moscow. For the best part of an hour, the Vatreni were definitely the superior side and were extremely unlucky to find themselves 2-1 down at half-time thanks to a dubious penalty in the opening 45 minutes.

That will come as scant consolation for the millions of fans rooting for Zlatko Dalić’s team to make history and become only the ninth country ever to get their hands on the Jules Rimet Trophy. Considering the fact that each of Croatia’s three knockout matches went all the way to extra time, they started the game with far more energy than Les Bleus. From a creativity point of view, it was almost a no contest.

Dalić’s midfield trio of Ivan Rakitić, Marcelo Brozović and Luka Modrić outplayed Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté for large periods of the match, yet they still found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline. It has often been said throughout the tournament that this French side plays in short bursts and is a more pragmatic outfit than many of its previous incarnations. Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann are two of the best players in the world and they ultimately made the difference in the Luzhniki Stadium.

As far as Croatia are concerned, reaching the final is a huge achievement for them. Their 51-year-old boss was only handed the reigns towards the end of their qualification campaign, while his only real experience of top level management was gained during spells with Al-Hilal and Al-Ain. Naturally, he is said to be on the radar of some top European clubs, such was the level of his team’s play from both a technical and tactical standpoint.

The Livno native’s 4-2-3-1 system has earned many plaudits, particularly for the way in which he has managed to find the right balance between defence and attack. Several tacticians have tried and failed to do so in recent years. Despite heading into the match as underdogs, Croatia pressed from the first whistle and took the game to France. Didier Deschamps’ players simply could not get out and push themselves up the pitch.

Once the clock struck 60 minutes, the tide turned. France landed a few knockout blows from which their Balkan opponents could not recover from. Physically and psychologically, they crumbled and were in no fit state to take advantage of the glimour of hope afforded to them by Hugo Lloris’ dreadful mistake in the 69th minute.

Undoubtedly, the referee will come in for some heavy criticism in the coming days. It is only natural that Croatia will feel aggrieved, before pausing for breath and realizing exactly what they have achieved over the course of the past few weeks. They have gone one step further than the Class of 98, establishing themselves as their nation’s best ever side in the process.

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