After four weeks of breath-taking football, it all boils down to this, the 2018 World Cup final – France vs Croatia. France will be favourites to win, but what are the key battles that Croatia must not lose?
Olivier Giroud vs Dejan Lovren
Poor Giroud – has a striker ever looked less like scoring? Perhaps Stéphane Guivarc’h at the 1998 World Cup…On current form, Lovren won’t be too worried about this match-up. The big defender would always prefer to face a big, bruising target man than a speedy, skilful striker. In the semi-final against England, Lovren kept Harry Kane pretty quiet, but France offer a lot more in attack than just Giroud…
Kylian Mbappé vs Ivan Strinić/Josip Pivarić
If there’s one thing the Croatian defence lack, it’s pace. If there’s one player who has enough pace to destroy a whole team, it’s Mbappé. England’s Raheem Sterling got in behind Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida a few times on Wednesday but once again, he couldn’t make the most of his chances. Mbappé won’t have that problem; he’s playing with such confidence and composure. Whether he’s up against the struggling Strinić or his replacement Pivarić, Mbappé will fancy his chances of winning the World Cup final for France.
Paul Pogba vs Marcelo Brozović
Pogba is having a wonderful World Cup. It’s not just his flicks, tricks and long balls that are wowing the fans; it’s also his discipline and drive. In the semi-final against Belgium, he really stuck to his task and won the big battle against his Manchester United teammate, Marouane Fellaini. In the World Cup final, Pogba will look to get forward more and find that killer pass for Mbappé. Brozović is the man who must stop him. The Inter Milan midfielder made a big difference against England in the semi-finals but does he have the energy to keep up with Pogba?
N’Golo Kanté vs Luka Modrić
Croatia’s greatest asset is undoubtedly their creative midfield pairing of captain Modrić alongside Ivan Rakitić. They proved too much for England but in the World Cup final, they’ll be up against Kanté and Blaise Matuidi, 2 of the best defensive midfielders in the game. Are we looking at a stalemate? Kanté vs Modrić in particular should be fascinating but it may all come down to France’s fresher legs. After playing over 360 minutes of World Cup football in the last 11 days, how much does Modrić have left to give?
Benjamin Pavard vs Ivan Perišić
Didier Deschamps really threw Pavard in at the deep end at this World Cup, but there are no signs of sinking. In fact, the makeshift right-back has been terrific, scoring one of the goals of the tournament. Yes, Belgium’s Eden Hazard gave him a tough time in the first-half on Tuesday, but Pavard never gave up. Croatia’s Perišić will present a different challenge – less fancy footwork, and more direct dribbling. Pavard will need to stay alert to Perišić’s darting runs.