Put the brakes on Mbappe - how Croatia can win the World Cup final
John McAuley highlights three areas Croatia must master if they are to beat France in Sunday's final
Putting the brakes on Mbappe
Oh, how Croatia’s kilometre-laden legs will not fancy a night chasing after Kylian Mbappe. The French flier has been one of the tournament’s headline acts, allying searing pace with an ability to offer the truly spectacular. Croatia struggled initially with Raheem Sterling in the semi-final, and he is effectively Mbappe-lite: not as quick, powerful or clinical (although still a real threat). Unlike Sterling through the middle on Wednesday, Mbappe will presumably start on the right, which means he will be in direct battle with Ivan Strinic, who came off early against England with what appeared to be fatigue. As has been noted before, Ivan Perisic does not provide Strinic requisite cover on the left flank. It could be a trying night.
Modric mastering the midfield
OK, it's pretty obvious: if Croatia are to have any chance of snatching the World Cup – Croatia! – Luka Modric needs to grab hold of the game and not let it slip. Against England, the Croatia captain looked to be suffocating as England routinely bypassed the midfield. However, from the beginning of the second half until his legs evidently could carry him no more, Modric was superb: controlling, orchestrating and generally ensuring the match throbbed to his beat. No one at the World Cup has run more than Modric’s 63 kilometres. Yet he is up against a quietly (less loudly) impressive Paul Pogba, Blase Matuidi’s dynamism and N’Golo Kante’s beautifully effective effervescence. Can Modric wrestle free from the Chelsea terrier in particular?
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Mandzukic setting the tone
In the past two pre-match press conferences, Modric and Zlatko Dalic have both been asked to explain Mario Mandzukic’s importance to the team. Each time, they have simply smirked, then waxed lyrical about his character and his commitment to the cause. On Sunday, again Mandzukic will lead the line, and again, will be asked to form the first line of defence. But his main role should be to unsettle Raphael Varane. Mandzukic must be a persistent pest, an irritant and a concern for the slick France centre-back. The Juventus forward sets the tone, pushes others to follow, although his winner against England underlined his clear talent, too. If anyone embodies Croatia’s indomitable spirit, it is he.
Updated: July 15, 2018 02:29 PM