Croatia and France are set for a rematch of the 1998 World Cup Final after defeating England and Belgium to make it through. The game will be an interesting tactical matchup given how both sides have performed thus far. For France, this is a chance to redeem themselves after their disappointing Euro 2016 loss. For Croatia, it is a chance to write a new legacy in their small country’s history.
The Croatian team has battled their way here through 3-straight extra time games. 2 of those games went to penalty shootouts, revealing one of their greatest strengths in keeper Danijel Subasic. Subasic will indeed be tested by France’s star attacking players, but the goalie is in incredible form. Croatia’s midfield is stacked with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic. Perisic had a strong game against England and will be a major factor in the final. He is able to use his pace down the left flank sending crosses in and providing a strong shooting option. Up top is Mario Mandzukic, Croatia’s saving grace in the semifinal. He’s a goal poacher with a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Croatia’s defense has been solid throughout the tournament as well. Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic make up the best backline. Strinic may be questionable for the Final given his injury woes in the last few games. It seems the longer playing time is starting to take its effect. Part of the defense’s power, especially with Vrsaljko, is they can press up and add to the attack when needed. England’s flaw was allowing Croatia to press up and utilize the wings. It led to attack after attack. Croatia may not be able to do the same with France’s composed midfield and backline.
France has a star-studded squad on paper. Despite the names, not many players have seemingly made an impact. At least, that is what it seems. The beauty of the French team is there a lot of unnoticed contributions. For example, striker Olivier Giroud has yet to score a goal but he has set up some incredible assists and can hold the ball up well. Paul Pogba is another player with scoring prowess, but his hold up play and passing is what makes him integrate well. France’s midfield also has N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi. Young defender Benjamin Pavard has emerged as a star in this lineup and will undoubtedly serve a vital role. The 2 biggest names in the squad right now are Antoinne Griezmann and 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe. Mbappe had 2 goals in the Argentina match and showed flashes of brilliance in the Belgium game. If he can get the space to be creative he will give Croatia’s defense nightmares. Griezmann is always a threat given his dribbling and shooting skills.
The French team has been strong on set pieces as well. Their game plan will likely be to take control of the midfield and maintain possession. If they can activate Mbappe and Griezmann early, the Croatians will have trouble. Croatia will also try to control the midfield with Modric and Perisic. Mandzukic will be up to his usual poaching, meaning he’ll be lying in wait for crosses or through-balls.
France is the sportsbooks’ 2018 World Cup favorite. Croatia has been the underdogs in most of their matches and has succeeded thus far, meaning they are not the team to count out. France won 2-1 in 1998, but these are 2 different teams.