France vs Croatia preview, betting tips and prediction
France and under 2.5 goals @ 9/4 with Coral
Neutrals had high hopes for the semi-final between Belgium and France but the latter dashed them with a mature and slightly cynical performance. Pitted against the attack-happy outfit that Roberto Martinez fielded, France needed to be tactically disciplined. Didier Deschamps set up his side to hit Belgium on the counter-attack, the pace of Kylian Mbappe being a key part of their strategy.
Sitting deep – frontman Olivier Giroud spent a lot of time in his own half – they soaked up pressure and sucker-punched Belgium from a set-piece, Samuel Umtiti getting the winning goal. Belgian players hit out at their opponents for playing such a defensive game but that criticism came across as frustration at being beaten by a well-organised, patient team.
Croatia have made it to their first World Cup final. Somehow, they did it. That’s nothing against the quality of this Croatian side, possessing members of a Golden Generation as it does. But following successive games that were resolved by penalty shoot-outs, one would forgive them for being a little tired. 120 minutes were once again required to separate Croatia and their opponents.
Spot-kicks weren’t needed against England, Mario Mandzukic scoring the winner in extra-time. Have they boundless energy? We know the answer is no but aren’t too confident about saying it ahead of the biggest stage of all on which they can potentially prove doubters wrong once again.
Kylian Mbappe will be, as ever, France’s danger man in this final. He can potentially destroy a tired Croatian defence on the break. And Croatia showed against England that they are susceptible to being caught out with a high line. Hugo Lloris has been cat-like when called upon in this tournament.
Defenders Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti have been terrific at the back and a threat at set-pieces. Right-back Benjamin Pavard has been the real discovery of the World Cup. Expect him to secure a big move after the competition. Paul Pogba hasn’t been as influential going forward as many anticipated but he’s shown a real maturity, genuine leadership qualities. His partnership with the infinitely-energetic N’Golo Kante will once again by key.
The only real weakness of this French team is Olivier Giroud. One suspects that Deschamps mainly deploys him for the defensive shift he puts in. He missed a couple of decent chances against Belgium. If Croatia are to concede chances to one of France’s forwards, they will hope it’s him.
Shocked by an early goal from Kieran Trippier, Croatia were awful in the first half of their clash with England and were lucky not to trail by more than one goal at the break. They grew into the game in the second half and once again came from behind, as they have in all of their knockout matches. Ivan Perisic was key to the comeback, scoring the first and assisting the second.
Mario Mandzukic got on the end of that assist, ever-alert when England’s defenders switched off. Once again, the question is how much did it take out of their key players. Croatia are weak on the left-hand side. Much of the ball was being shifted over to Rebic, who isn’t terrible, and left-back Strinic, who kind of is. If he plays, Mbappe will destroy him.
France should have a fully-fit squad to choose from.
Croatia have a number of players who are suffering from fatigue but will be expected to start with more or less the same XI who took on England. Strinic limped off and Mandzukic suffered from cramp so who knows. Kovacic may feature after not appearing in the semi-final.