Hawkeye Sidekick

FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Final: France 4 – 2 Croatia

France are World Cup champions, a second triumph in this competition which sees Didier Deschamps join an elusive club of player and manager who have won the coveted crown. Croatia left everything on the pitch but France particularly in that second half showed why they are deserving champions. Hawkeye Sidekick identifies a couple of talking points.

We need to talk about VAR

VAR was supposed to assist match officials and get the key decisions right. In the opening period of this final, France got the benefit of the doubt in two key decisions which led to goals. The free kick awarded to Griezmann prior to the opening goal was soft. The innocuous penalty appeal from France when Perisic’s arm hit the ball while in the air was incredibly harsh. VAR missed the opening incident and with no insight into the discussions that arrived at the penalty decision, mystery abounds. Did all the VAR match officials agree that it was a penalty? There is zero accountability in how the VAR decisions are made. This needs to change or it needs to be scrapped.

Croatia exposed defensively

Croatia can feel hard done by on the first two goals but it showed issues in their defensive shape at the set piece. The opening goal was a tragedy. Communication breakdown in the Croatian defense which forced Mandzukic to head the ball to nowhere in particular, unfortunately it was not in his own goal. Vida and Lovren needed to do better on organizing their side at the set piece. The Perisic handball was harsh but the player’s positioning was not great to start off with, not tight enough defensively.

France’s power and pace upfront as Croatia committed further players forward was seen to full effect in that second half. Pogba began to step his authority on the game; probing deep runs and his goal was superbly well taken as Croatia failed to track the towering midfielder’s threat to make it 3-1. The fourth goal was not long in coming; further space for France to exploit. Mbappe emphatic with the strike. Croatia tried hard but they were exposed defensively at various intervals despite playing attractive football led by Rakitic and Modric.

Versatile France

The central midfield performance today typified this. Kante with an early yellow card was walking the tightrope and the Chelsea player dared not to make a tackle. Deschamps reacted and took the player off for Nzoni. The move worked a treat. Nzoni zipped into tackles and Croatia’s key threats in Rakitic and Modric suddenly were not afforded the space and time enjoyed when Kante was on the park. France’s squad depth in this tournament has being superb; the ability of players to support others and execute the game plan has being to the fore.

Pogba’s performances in this tournament have grown in stature. Maituidi was heroic throughout. Kante was a mountain where opposition attacking options wilted in his presence. The attacking options were in cohesive unison today. Griezmann was probing with his intelligent runs in front of Giroud who led the line well. Mbappe was a constant source of angst for Vida today. France defensively were the strongest side in this tournament. Lloris’ gaffe aside, the French back line has oozed class. Pavard, Hernandez providing defensive shape out wide while supporting their attack. Varane and Umtiti were the standouts in the central defense.

Few can argue that France did not deserve to win this tournament. The system was conservative and controlled but the results produced a World Cup triumph. Deschamps is justified in his tactical ethos and with the age profile of this playing group, who is to say that this side will not retain this competition in four years time? Well done France. Enjoy the celebrations!