France ready to win World Cup ugly as Croatia eye history

Substance over style is the order of the day for France striker Antoine Griezmann.
Updated 14 July 2018
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France ready to win World Cup ugly as Croatia eye history

  • Style not important for Les Bleus striker Antoine Griezmann
  • Croatia players will tell Dalic if they are not fit, coach says

France may have been criticized for the lack of flair they have shown on route to the final but Antoine Griezmann does not care, with the striker claiming Les Bleus will win ugly if they have to.
The favorites have failed to fire in Russia, a brilliant second-half showing in their 4-3 win over Argentina in the second round the only period of brilliance they have really produced.
Belgium’s players criticized the tactics France used in their 1-0 semifinal win as Didier Deschamps’ team sat deep and Samuel Umtiti’s headed goal came from a corner, but Griezmann dismissed the criticism.
“I don’t care. I want the star (on my shirt for World Cup winners). If I get that star, I don’t care about how we play,” the 27-year-old said.
Griezmann came into the tournament as one of the favorites for the golden boot, but so far has only scored three times. Two from penalties and one largely thanks to a goalkeeping howler from Uruguay’s Fernando Muslera. And he said he had changed the way he plays for France in order to benefit the team.
“At the Euros two years ago I was top scorer but we lost, so I said to myself: ‘I am going to score less to see if we can win’,” he said. “My game is changing, now I am more likely to dictate the rhythm or hold onto the ball. If I score, then that’s great, but I am more a player who thinks of the team than of scoring.”
After a slow start in Russia, France have picked up form. Their blend of experienced campaigners like Griezmann and Paul Pogba, and young stars like Kylian Mbappe and Benjamin Pavard, ensures they head into the match as favorites.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is prepared to make changes for the clash if some of his players have not recovered from their exertions in reaching the final. Dalic’s men have been forced to go through three periods of extra-time to become the smallest country in 68 years to make the final.
“(It) is the World Cup final. Simply, the players know what that is,” Dalic said. “All my players tell me if they are not 100 percent fit. They know what is at stake, but if they are unable to give their all they will tell us. They have such an attitude.”
Ivan Perisic, who scored and set up Mario Mandzukic’s winner in a 2-1 semifinal win over England, was among five Croatian players to miss training on Friday.
“I hope my players will be ready. If not, I have great players on the bench who will be raring to go.”

SUMMARY

You can argue it both ways. Either France have been the best side in the tournament and have reached the final without ever, bar the second-half performance against Argentina, having to get out of third gear, or they have sleepwalked there thanks to some pretty indifferent opposition and will be found out against a hungry Croatia side. We think the truth lies somewhere 
in-between the two.
What is not in doubt is that the Croatians have done brilliantly to get this far. They have played three consecutive extra-times and will turn up at the Luzhniki Stadium 
not afraid of anything other than an early onset of tired legs. Whether that is enough to |
breach a brilliant France defense is the key, but they will back themselves.

KEY CLASH — N'GOLO KANTE vs LUKA MODRIC

The fluid nature of the modern game means there are rarely exclusive head-to-head battles, but the performances of these two men will undoubtedly be key to today’s result. When either play well their side tends to do likewise. Modric was imperious against England, he ran the show, constantly looking for the ball and the incisive pass. If he gets a foothold against Kante and the ever impressive Paul Pogba France will worry. Kante is about more than simply snuffing out danger in front of the France backline, he can move well with the ball, is key to the side’s counterattacks and can score from distance. Whoever gets the upper hand in the midfield battle will be the team lifting the trophy later on today.

PREDICTION — FRANCE TO WIN 3-1

Croatia will go into the match fearless, and with Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic in the side they have the weapons to hurt France. But they also go into the clash after three tense and tiring extra-times, two of which they won thanks to a penalty shootout. That will undoubtedly take its toll. You also get the feeling that France have an extra gear to go into if they have to. Les Bleus will attack on the counter and with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezeman in fine form will always be a threat. The match, like most of the knockout stages so far, will be a close-fought contest — the strong French defense against the probing Croatians. But France will have too much for Croatia and will win by two goals.


Fognini tops Lajovic to claim Monte Carlo Masters

Updated 32 min 3 sec ago
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Fognini tops Lajovic to claim Monte Carlo Masters

  • Fabio Fognini defeated Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday
  • Fognini is only the fourth man to win the clay-court event since Nadal’s first of a record 11 wins in 2005

MONACO: Fabio Fognini won the biggest title of his career after beating Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 Sunday in the Monte Carlo Masters final.
The 13th-seeded Italian’s first title of the year was his ninth overall but first at Masters level.
It came the day after he stunned defending champion Rafael Nadal in straight sets, becoming the first player to beat Nadal here since Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semifinals.
“It has been an incredible week, I will keep working,” Fognini said. “I started the season badly so this is unbelievable.”
After going out in the third round of the Australian Open, Fognini had won only one match and lost six times before this tournament.
Playing here may have given him a boost, however, since he grew up in nearby San Remo — just over the Italian border and a short drive or train ride away along the glittering Mediterranean coast.
The 48th-ranked Lajovic’s run to his first career final was unexpected. But the unseeded Serb rarely threatened in humid, overcast and slightly windy conditions.
Fognini needed a medical timeout to receive treatment to his right foot and right thigh after the fifth game of the second set.
But it did not impede him as he served out the match, clinching victory on his second match point when Lajovic hit a forehand wide.
The players hugged warmly at the net.
The 31-year-old Fognini is only the fourth man to win the clay-court event since Nadal’s first of a record 11 wins in 2005. Djokovic, twice, and Stan Wawrinka also won.
The last Italian before Fognini was Nicola Pietrangeli in 1968.
The 85-year-old Pietrangeli, a two-time French Open winner, stood and applauded as Fognini dropped to his knees to kiss the surface.
Pietrangeli walked gingerly onto the court and the pair hugged. Pietrangeli posed alongside Fognini as he held the trophy
The match started evenly enough, but Fognini broke for a 4-2 lead when Lajovic made an unforced error on forehand. Fognini then held his serve with a typically flamboyant one-handed, cross-court backhand to take control.
Serving for the set, Fognini saved a break point with a forehand winner down the line, and then clinched it with an equally good backhand.
Fognini broke for a 3-2 lead in the second set when Lajovic hit a forehand wide.
After Fognini’s medical timeout, Lajovic missed an easy smash at 30-30 in the next game.
With that miss, his slim hopes faded.