Weekly English Premier League Opinion - World Cup Edition - Who Will Win the Final and Why?
France vs. Croatia
Both semi-finals were excellent games, some varied in quality at times, but both were very entertaining in their own unique way. France were excellent in dispatching a very good Belgium team and Croatia’s endurance to stick to their game plan against an England team who opened their encounter with a vibrant new tactical attitude was astonishing. I think in the end, probably the better team from each semi-final made into the showpiece event, but it was certainly hard work in earning that right to play in the World Cup final.
The France versus Belgium game was my favorite game of the whole tournament. The tactical fluency of Belgium was interesting and confusing all at the same time. And the ability of France to counter all of Belgium’s tactical tinkering was a joy to watch. On the day France had more of their better players play well than Belgium, and that was the decisive factor in the French advancement to the final.
For Belgium Eden Hazard was a constant menace. He was so energetic and so threatening that every time he collected the ball, even in his seemingly left wingback position, it looked like something good was going to happen. Hazard did just about all he could to get his team through, but he didn’t have enough of his teammates performing at the same levels.
In contrast France had a team playing at peak performance. From back to front France had star players playing to their best. The goalkeeper and the two central defenders were immense; last ditch tackles, relentless clearing headers and outstanding saves all contributed to an inspiring defensive display. N'Golo Kanté and Pogba in midfield were equally as strong, both played to their full potential; this is expected of Kanté by now, but to see Pogba play with such discipline for the benefit of the team was majestic. Matuidi was perhaps my France man-of-the-match. I’ve never really been a huge fan of his, but the contribution he made, particularly without the ball, was a gamechanger.
On the flipside, Giroud seems off the pace and the two fullbacks are a potential weak link, so there is something for Croatia to tactically consider. But if all the strong components of this French team continue to play that strong, then they will be tough to beat.
Croatia’s path to the final has been a long journey, the emotional struggle compounded by the marathon nature of their pathway must be a factor in this final. If Croatia can find that fortitude to win then it will be a remarkable achievement indeed.
Against England in the semi-final Croatia were vulnerable to England’s opening 30minutes when England played very direct and they were very successful. The longer ball, bypassing midfield, and trying to play in-behind the somewhat vulnerable Croatian backline was working for England and Croatia were struggling to deal with it. That new game plan from England was causing Croatia all sorts of problems, it lead to their goals and should of lead to more goals. Quite why England stopped this effective strategy after 30minutes is mystery, now a regrettable mystery given how the game played out.
When Croatia worked their way back into the game it came through a midfield supremacy, and their most dangerous attacking threat came from wide areas. England were not able to hold Croatia back and became less effective at stopping the crosses coming in. This part of the field is a strength for Croatia and equally, the fullbacks are a weakness for France; maybe this tactical dynamic will be where the game will be won or lost.
France to win
By Jonny Carter - Chicago Fire