2018 World Cup: France-Croatia, battle of ideas for a trophy Live

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Tactical analysis. “The defense dictates its laws to war. “The maxim is by Carl von Clausewitz, a Prussian military theorist and author of the founding treaty De la guerre, in which the supporters of the catenaccio (“lock”) probably find themselves much more than those of total football. Almost two centuries later, this sentence, apparently unrelated to the World Cup final between France and Croatia on Sunday 15 July in Moscow, sums up one of the tactical challenges of the match. Indeed, it is the protection of one’s own goal, more than the attack of the opponent’s, that will dictate the behaviour of both teams.
Does that mean that Croats and French will spend the match folded in their camp and that nobody will take the initiative? Not really. Because the two formations have opposite approaches, linked to the characteristics of their rearguard. The Blues, who are widely favourites, rely on an ultra-strong defensive framework around a central hinge that dominates the air and is protected by a N’Golo Kanté that rakes all the balls. If we add a Hugo Lloris in great form in the goals, it gives the ideal cocktail to play very low: physical domination, great discipline (only six fouls committed against Belgium) and collective thinking. It’s enough to follow José Mourinho when he says: “You can have control without having the ball. »

Ambivalent philosophy
Croatia, on average much higher up on the pitch, protect themselves by keeping the ball as far away from their cage as possible. By multiplying the passes, it certainly elaborates offensives which must destabilize the adversary, but it imposes especially its own tempo to the game. Like Spain 2010, it sometimes falls asleep more than it creates. And he recalls Johan Cruyff’s famous phrase, whose romanticism was not always reckless: “If we have the ball, others can’t score. “The symbol of this ambivalent philosophy is Luka Modric, a brilliant Real Madrid midfielder whose bid for the next Golden Ball is getting thicker every day. At the heart of the game, he is the barometer, sometimes in front of the defence, sometimes for an hour against Russia, sometimes as a relay or even number 10.

Through Modric, it is of course the strengths but also, and perhaps above all, all the Croatian weaknesses that come to light. Because if its importance in the orientation and management of the game is crucial, it must be put in the right conditions to shine and relieved of some of the defensive work. Hence the use of dry cleaning, a strategy little used in this World Cup which, if well applied, forces the opponent to rush and return the ball.

Against Russia in the quarter-finals, Modric hadn’t followed Denis Cheryshev’s move, so he was happy to take advantage of a bit of space to strike in the top corner. A late comeback against England on Wednesday night was a mistake that Kieran Trippier converted directly into a foul on the edge of the area. Other goals conceded by Croatia? A penalty following a hand from defender Dejan Lovren against Iceland, a poorly defended touch against Denmark and a Russian header from a free kick. And who knows what the final would have been if Sime Vrsaljko hadn’t saved a header from England’s John Stones on the line at the start of extra time, the only time Croatia have not yet been beaten at the corner.

Football is unpredictable, but the balance of power so far seems clearly in favour of the Blues: why can’t Samuel Umtiti and Raphaël Varane, impeccable against the tall Belgian and Uruguayan players in the last two games and even head-scorers, repeat the performance against an opponent who is struggling to defend in his own area? It is this question, and the obvious answer despite the size of striker Mario Mandzukic, which suggests a match with a similar face to those against Belgium and Argentina. An opponent who wants the ball, a French team very happy to leave it, and a big battle in the middle to make the Croatian attacks as harmless as possible.

While England, who defended with eight men and left two strikers ready to counter-attack, were betrayed by their numerical inferiority in the middle (a 5-3-2 where the line of three must cover the entire width), France proved that they were not afraid to put ten players in their camp, Kylian Mbappé’s speed enough to be dangerous once the ball recovered. Everyone, except sometimes the Parisian, is concerned by this recovery, with a simple strategy: Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud prevent the midfielders to be found in good conditions, Paul Pogba is in charge of scoring the setter and N’Golo Kanté focuses on the target. Against Argentina, it was not so much by defending well on Lionel Messi as by cutting him off from Ever Banega, his main supplier of balloons, that France had nipped the threat in the bud. If Marouane Fellaini was also easily managed, Pogba, who is the most apt to fill the role provided he switches with Blaise Matuidi in the middle, could find in Modric his toughest opponent…

Croatia, whose play can quickly become stereotypical, between the individual actions of wingers Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic and the multiple crosses of laterals Vrsaljko and Strinic, has so far been animated by a force that goes beyond tactics – where France, which adapts its own to the opponent, has never needed exploits. Neither a late penalty in extra time in the Round of 16 nor an equaliser on the quarter-finals, nor the accumulated fatigue, prevented Zlatko Dalic’s men, who had been led in their last three matches, from continuing the adventure. And if Lovren failed this year in the Champions League final, the European titles accumulated by Rakitic, Modric, Mandzukic, Kovacic (eight C1s and one C3 between them) and Vrsaljko (one C3), do more than balance the experience of the big events.

All the more so as there remains one major variable: how would France, which should be able to cause imbalances everywhere on the ground, react in the event of an unfavourable scenario? Led almost by chance by Argentina, it was on the attack, with the Albiceleste’s defensive boulevards and a volley from Benjamin Pavard immediately reversing the momentum. Is nine minutes of chase enough to judge the percussion of a team that seemed almost harmless on attack placed a month ago? If the French defense dictates its laws in this World Cup, the power of its attack has not yet been written in the texts

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