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

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.


Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

Updated 03 August 2020

Mind games begin ahead of the return to Saudi football as Hilal boss Lucescu challenges Nassr coach

  • Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining
  • There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play

DUBAI: There may have been no football in Saudi Arabia for five months but the mind games are in full flow as ahead of the crucial top of the table clash in the Saudi Pro League on Wednesday, Al Hilal boss Razvan Lucescu has told Al Nassr coach Rui Vitoria that the pressure is all on him.

In the first game since March when the season was suspended due to coronavirus, Al Nassr in second, six points behind the leaders with eight games to play, can’t afford any slip-ups in the Riyadh Derby if they are to successfully defend the title they won last season.

“We are six points ahead and the opponent is under more pressure as they know they have to reduce the difference,” Lucescu told reporters at the pre-match press conference to the eagerly-awaited Riyadh Derby that will take place with no fans in the King Fahd International Stadium.

That points gap means that the smart money is still on Al Hilal to take league title number 16. Victory in this Riyadh Derby will take the three-time Asian champions nine points clear of Al Nassr with just seven games remaining.

Not only that but Al Hilal have looked to be in better shape than their challengers in recent warm-up games with a 2-2 draw with second tier side Al-Shoalah following a 4-0 win over Al Riyadh.

“We have been looking forward to this game for a long time,”  Lucescu, who took Al Hilal to the AFC Champions League title in 2019, added. “The league suspension has been long and it has not been easy but we have focused on the mental side of things and aim to return strongly.”

The Romanian has been boosted by the return to fitness of Brazilian star Carlos Eduardo who has recovered from last week’s knock. With the league’s leading goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis signing a contract extension in July, Lucescu is in a positive frame of mind.

“We know the way they play and we know that it will be a tough game …but everyone is affected by the long pause and we all start at the same level. We are just going to take it step by step and stay focused.”

There has been good and bad news for Al Nassr as Brazilian centre-back Maicon Pereira has arrived in Riyadh from Galatasaray and has been cleared to play. The former Porto star will be needed as fellow defenders Omar Hawsawi and Abdullah Madu could miss out through injury.

While Hilal may have the points gap, in terms of the personal battles between the two coaches, Vitoria has the upper hand. The Portuguese boss has yet to lose in three meetings with his Romanian rival in big games in Europe as well as Saudi Arabia.

In a final play-off to reach the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League, Vitoria led Benfica to a 5-2 aggregate victory over PAOK, coached by Lucescu. After a 1-1 draw in Lisbon, the Portuguese powerhouse won 4-1 in Greece.

Earlier this season, Al Nassr inflicted Al Hilal’s only loss in the league this season so far with a 2-1 win at Hilal’s King Saud International Stadium in October with Moroccan forward Abderrazak Hamdallah getting both goals.

A similar result at Al Nassr’s home on Wednesday would breathe new life into the title race. Vitoria has stressed that recent friendly games were a chance to try out tactics and give players a run-out. Losses against Al Raed and Al Fateh however have given the Portuguese boss much to think about.

At the other end of the table.  Al Ittihad are just three places of the bottom of this 16-team league and in danger of the drop. The two-time AFC Champions League winners face a game on Tuesday at mid-table Abha where victory would provide the Jeddah giants with some much-needed breathing space.

The race for third and a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League is also a fierce one. Al Wehda are currently in the driving seat and host Al Shabab while Al Ahli in fourth and just two points behind host the struggling Al Hazem. Al Faisaly, Al-Taawon and Al Raed also have an outside chance of booking a place in next year’s continental competition.

All eyes will, however, be on the top of the table clash as Hilal can take a huge step towards the title. “I am happy with how the players have returned from the suspension and I am confident in  their abilities,”said Lucescu. “All we care about is winning the next match and that will help us win the league.”