From Gallic guile to set-piece superiority: How France secured their second World Cup crown

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France celebrate after beating Croatia to win the World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium


France won their second World Cup after beating Croatia 4-2 in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.

Les Blues took the lead through an unfortunate own goal from Mario Mandzukic before Ivan Perisic levelled the scores midway through the first half. Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe all found the net to seal the victory after the break.

Sportsmail’s ROB DRAPER looks at how Didier Deschamps’ team went all the way in Russia

France celebrate after beating Croatia to win the World Cup at the Luzhniki Stadium

French Flair? More like Gallic guile

Hard to criticise a team that scores four goals in a World Cup final (all the best countries do) but despite some wonderful moments – that Paul Pogba crossfield pass which starts the move for his goal was exquisite – it still felt like they were a team playing with the handbrake on. 

The first half saw seven shots for Croatia, France only had one and were 2-1 up (The first goal deemed an own goal so didn’t register as a shot on goal).

Croatia had 61 per cent of possession in the game, which we all know by now isn’t the law. But with the array of riches at his disposal, you expect more from Didier Deschamps. 

However, maybe this is the point of tournament football. He did unleash Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Greizmann at times. 

Paul Pogba (right) challenges Ivan Rakitic during the second half of Sunday's match

Paul Pogba (right) challenges Ivan Rakitic during the second half of Sunday’s match

But it wasn’t for nothing that Eric Cantona dubbed him the water carrier. Actually, his back four looked shaky and N’Golo Kante had a rare bad game and had to be hooked as, on a yellow, as he was at risk of being sent off. 

But the real work is done by Blaise Matuidi and later Steve N’Zonzi. As well as Paul Pogba. Jose Mourinho must be looking on bemused because these performances are exactly what Manchester United need. 

The discipline to stay in shape and yet those magical interventions. Deschamps built foundations on seven solid players; eight if you include centre forward Olivier Giroud, At times it seems he is more there for his pressing, which in its own way is defensive work, than his defensive threat. 

We may all want more. But Deschamps has what he wants. He is a World Cup winner as both player and manager

Blaise Matuidi (left) closes down Croatia full-back Sime Vrsaljko during the second half

Blaise Matuidi (left) closes down Croatia full-back Sime Vrsaljko during the second half

England win the World Cup (of set pieces)

FA technical director Dan Ashworth came into this World Cup with a dossier indicating the importance of set pieces to to the victories of Spain and Germany on 2010 and 2014 and how they are disproportionately important in World Cups as opposed to the Champions League. 

He was vindicated here as were Allan Russell and Martyn Margetson who devised England’s set-piece routines. The other point they emphasised – which is, of course, related – was the importance of not conceding free kicks. Discipline matters; it correlates to success.

The final was yet another indicator of this trend, with all three first half goals coming from set pieces: two from unnecessary fouls; the third from a harsh penalty award but that came from a corner.

France took the lead when Antoine Griezmann's free-kick was headed in by Mario Mandzukic

France took the lead when Antoine Griezmann’s free-kick was headed in by Mario Mandzukic

For the first goal on 17 minutes , Griezmann clearly plays for the free kick but Marcelo Brozovic gives him the opportunity, clumsily running into the back of his legs. 

For Croatia’s equaliser, Kante clips the legs of Ivan Perisic. He was striding away but Kante had three team-mates around to deal with the threat. 

With Modric on delivery, it was a wholly superfulous intervention Sure enough, Modric found a man at at the back post and the confusion brought the chance for Perisic to equalise.

The Love Train strikes again

To complete a good World Cup for free-kick man Russell, it is noticeable the teams are mimcing England’s set pieces routines. 

The Love Train, as Glenn Hoddle called it, otherwise known as the Bus Stop has been around for a while but England’s spin on it was impressive and teams have taken note. France weren’t using it at the start of the tournament. 

But when they lined up for the 37th minute corner which won them the penalty, five players lined up behind each other and scatter. 

The point of this that it makes them harder to mark as you can’t get close to the players, particularly those in the middle. Croatia used the split version of this technique in the semi final, another imitation of England’s routine. When France did it, it caused enough confusion to win the penalty. Harsh though that was, it direct relates to the next point…..

Ivan Perisic of Croatia handles the ball inside the penalty area, leading to a VAR review

Ivan Perisic of Croatia handles the ball inside the penalty area, leading to a VAR review

VAR has changed the rules

As FIFA president Gianni Infantino pointed out, the offside goal is dead. A player is either offside or not. But that is a fundamental change to the rules, as the benefit of doubt which used to be given to the attacking player no longer applies. 

That particular rule is written for when the human eye is judging an incident once in real time. Now there is no need.

Likewise, Perisic’s handball. No doubt he handles the ball, but in real time most referees would give him the benefit of the doubt, especially in a World Cup final. 

France players confront referee Nestor Pinata after Perisic handled the ball inside the box

France players confront referee Nestor Pinata after Perisic handled the ball inside the box

Knowing how crictial the decision is, you couldn’t give it unless you were sure. But watching multiple replays must change the psyche of a referee. 

The hand ball is clear – even if he should surely allow for the speed of the ball and proximity of the deflection, as the laws state – but in slow motion it seems more deliberate. 

Ultimately, the upshot is that referees are more confident and empowered to give more decisions and so the value of the set-piece increases even more.

Pinata reviews VAR footage before awarding France a penalty shortly before half-time 

Pinata reviews VAR footage before awarding France a penalty shortly before half-time 

Croatian spirit

As a football team. Croatia will live long in the memory. If France provided the case for a degree of pragmatism, Zlatko Dalic at least demonstrated much can be achieved getting on the front foot.

Their pressing is extraordinarily good and energetic, ultimately vindicated by Mario Mandzukic’s goal when spooking Hugo Lloris. Ivan Perisic was also outstanding in that department.

But their full backs though are the key to boxing teams in. They did it to England in the second half and to France for long periods (France just had better shape in midfield to combat it). 

Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic both were admirably aggressive. 

France players give Croatia a guard of honour as they go to recieve their runners-up medals

France players give Croatia a guard of honour as they go to recieve their runners-up medals

Early on Strinic negated Mbappe threat simply by pushing up so high that the winger was cautious. It also allowed Perisic the freedom to be so influential in that first half. 

By the end, when they were chasing the game, they switched to a back three in possession (with Borzovic in front) and a back four out of possession (Brozovic dropping in). 

That allowed them wing backs and more pressure of France. To no avail. But their boldness had got them here in the first place. 

 





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