No regrets for Croatia as France eye domination after World Cup win

Luka Modric looks disconsolate after France beat his Croatia side 4-2 in Moscow
Updated 18 July 2018

No regrets for Croatia as France eye domination after World Cup win

  • Unlucky Croatians proud at getting to the final
  • Young France side can win more, says Kante

MOSCOW: Two hours after the final whistle and about 90 minutes after the fireworks exploded above the Luzhniki Stadium crowning France world champions for a second time, a smoked-glass door slowly opened and Croatia’s players, showered and smelling of expensive aftershave, started to weave their way towards their team bus. 

Defeated 4-2 and pivoting on a cruel penalty decision, the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic were refreshingly upbeat. There were no signs of tears. Disappointment, yes, but acceptance that things had not gone their way and that was, unfortunately, football. Modric spoke of how the penalty “killed” his team and questioned why the free-kick that had led to France’s opening goal could not have been reviewed by the referee’s video assistants. Yet he smiled and spoke glowingly of the experience and his pride in creating history for his country.

“Unlucky to lose? I think so,” Modric said. “Everyone has the same sensation that we played well. I think we were the better team. But sometimes the better teams don’t win. We were surprised, especially because the first goal he gave the foul, which wasn’t in my opinion, and they scored from that. After, we recovered, and when we played the best football he gives a penalty to them. It kills you. It’s not easy always to come back, but in the end we tried, we fought until the end and we have to be proud of what we did. But it wasn’t enough to win it.”

The difference between success and victory can be cruelly fine at times. Were it not for the penalty decision, Croatia — much the better team for the first hour in Moscow  — may well have gone on to triumph, arriving in Zagreb today as world champions rather than defeated heroes. Instead, as Modric, the last of his 23-man squad, stepped aboard the bus, the smoked-glass door burst open again.

Ousmane Dembele, Samuel Umtiti and Benjamin Mendy — carrying a large wireless bluetooth speaker — waltzed through the press zone, the phalanx of gathered journalists pleading for a few soundbites. The players delivered nothing but some song lyrics, a few dance steps, and wide smiles for their camera phones, which were recording the scenes and broadcasting them live to social media. 

It was left then to Les Bleus’ less-brash bunch: Hugo Lloris, Adil Rami, Steven N’zonzi, Ngolo Kante. N’zonzi, who had earlier demanded his limelight-loving teammates let Kante hold the trophy because the tiny Chelsea midfielder was too shy to ask himself, spoke of “the best feeling in the world”. Kante meanwhile whispered that, with such a young squad, the win could be the start of a prolonged period of success for his country.

Rami looked at the win through a wider lens. “Me, I'm French of Moroccan origin and I'm proud of it, proud to show that I'm not a thug, proud to make my country joyous like that,” he said. “I love France. I am also happy for everyone. This country deserves that. It’s very difficult now, we have had a lot of problems with terrorism, but now we are so happy to be champions of the world.”

Lloris had become just the second French captain in history to lift the World Cup, but leaving the stadium it was Raphael Varane, winner of 16 titles by the age of just 25, who cradled the famous golden trophy in his arms like a newborn baby. If Kante’s prediction is correct, the illustrious old trophy may well mark the birth of a new period of French domination. 

Qualifying for the 2020 European Championships starts in less than two months.

Old Trafford holds no fears for Pep Guardiola and title-chasing Manchester City

Updated 23 April 2019

Old Trafford holds no fears for Pep Guardiola and title-chasing Manchester City

  • Victory for City in the Premier League clash will keep the reigning champions on course for the title
  • City boast an impressive run of five wins and a draw in their last seven league visits to Old Trafford

MANCHESTER: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said Old Trafford is no longer a “scary” place to visit ahead of Wednesday’s derby at the home of Manchester United.
Victory for City in the Premier League clash will keep the reigning champions on course to become the first team in English football history to win a treble of all three major domestic trophies in the same season.
City boast an impressive run of five wins and a draw in their last seven league visits to Old Trafford — a sequence that includes 6-1 and 3-0 victories.
Guardiola, however, refused to use that form guide as a reason for confidence, although he accepted a trip to Old Trafford was not as daunting as in previous years.
“I don’t make theories about what happened in the past for what is going to happen in the future,” Guardiola told reporters on Tuesday.
“Every game is completely different. The reason why is the fact this club in the last decade grew a lot and it is not scary to go there.
“Before it was maybe more difficult. The players Manchester City had in the last decade made this game a little bit more equal.”
Man City can move one point clear of title rivals Liverpool at the top of the table heading into their final three games of the season with victory over United.
This latest derby takes place against the backdrop of United’s woeful 4-0 loss away to Everton on Sunday, a lacklustre display that was roundly criticized.
Guardiola, however, did not expect the Goodison Park performance to have a major bearing on the derby.
“A little bit, yeah but even a good result, the confidence will be higher,” said Guardiola when asked if United’s defeat by Everton made his task harder.
“It is a derby and all the times we play against United, the derbies are always special games and the players do their best for the fans, the club.”
The Catalan boss added: “I saw the game, I imagine what will happen against us. The game against Everton is over.”
City will visit Old Trafford without inspirational playmaker Kevin De Bruyne who suffered a hamstring injury in the weekend win over Tottenham Hotspur that came just days after a dramatic Champions League semifinal loss to Spurs ended hopes of a quadruple.
It is the latest problem to hamper the Belgian in a campaign that has seen him plagued by knee trouble and Guardiola said De Bruyne would required a concerted training program ahead of next season.
“Muscular problems, he had two or three,” recalled Guardiola.
“In England you don’t have time to make a preparation.
“You play every three days that is not the best way. You have to make a good pre-season. Now he has to pay attention, the little details, see if he can play one or two more games this season and next season make a good pre-season.”
Meanwhile Guardiola denied claims that winger Riyad Mahrez — the club’s £60 million ($78 million, 69 million euros) record signing from Leicester last season — is unhappy at his lack of first-team opportunities and keen to move on from City.
“Riyad will be with us for the next season here and the next one and the next one,” he said.
“I don’t need to speak with him. He will be with us next season,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss added. “He is a player for us. We are delighted with him and the way he plays.
“He is happy we are here. Everyone knows the competition we have here. He came last season to stay longer. It is not necessary to speak to him.”