World Cup: Keys to the game

One world, one fight.

Sunday, July 15 the 21st World Cup Final will be played in Moscow between France and Croatia.

France entered the tournament a favorites and have vindicated its high rating by reaching its third final in history. Croatia enter the match as heavy underdogs after forcing its way to the final match with bravery.

Battle in Midfield

A massive reason for why Croatia has been able to make this Cinderella run into the World Cup final is the play of Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, and my player of the tournament so far Luka Modric. The midfield trio have played every minute of every match and have improved as a unit every match since the round of 16 game against Denmark.

Despite playing 120 minutes for every playoff match because of extra time, the midfield trio have shown tireless ability to dig deep and courageously win games. With one game left, the country with a population of less than 5 million may be lifting its first World Cup trophy since becoming a country in 1991.

In 2016, France were upset by Portugal in the European Championship final and Sunday in Moscow they will look to bounce back and avoid similar embarrassment. The Croatian midfield will have work to do as Paul Pogba, who’s looking back to his best this month after an average year with Manchester United, Blaise Matuidi, a heavily underrated player throughout France’s run, and N’Golo Kante, France’s locomotive who never looks out of place on the pitch, look to expose the Croatian three for the first time this summer.

Which striker will rise?

Both sides will line up Sunday with strikers that enjoy posting up and distracting opposition center-backs. On one side is Mario Mandzukic. The Croatian has scored in Champions League finals and raised the trophy twice with two different clubs. Likely French starter Olivier Giroud on the other hand has found it difficult this summer. Mandzukic is considered a big-game player that has delivered numerous times for his clubs while Giroud falls flat underneath pressure-filled situations so far.

Don’t let the Frenchman’s past fool you, though, as his ability to score goals is unmistakable. He scored seven times for Arsenal Football Club and Chelsea Football Club this past Premier League campaign.  One chance converted can change the way he’s been criticized this month.

The Sturdy Succeed

The center defensive pairing of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti will have its hands full as Mandzukic is a focal point in the way Croatia’s offense functions. The Croatian is pitted between the center backs to wreak havoc and nod down balls in the attacking third for transition.

Giroud is used more as bait for wingers like Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe to locate space and take advantage of the center-forward’s movement. Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren will be on duty versus Giroud – a challenge Lovren, player for Liverpool Football Club, isn’t new to as the Croatian has lined up against the Frenchman in the Premier League several times.

Both sides have been lining up with a 4-5-1 formation that turns into a 4-3-3 on offense which means the battle in the middle of the park and possession will be crucial in who lifts the trophy. Whichever country it is, the ingredients for a chess match classic World Cup final are at hand.

Date: Sunday, July 15

Kickoff: 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Location: Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium

Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina)