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.”
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.