France v Croatia: Three key battles in the World Cup final
France face Croatia in Sunday's World Cup final
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 15/07/18 4:20pm
As France and Croatia prepare to go head to head in Sunday's World Cup final, we examine where the game will be won and lost.
Will N'Golo Kante be able to prevent Luka Modric from pulling the strings in midfield? And do Croatia have any chance of stopping Kylian Mbappe on France's right flank?
Here, we examine three key battles which could decide whether it's France or Croatia who get their hands on the trophy.
Kante v Modric
The most intriguing battle will take place in midfield, where two of the tournament's outstanding players will go up against each other. Modric has been the driving force behind Croatia's charge to the final, playing more minutes than any other player in Russia, but he faces his toughest test yet against the irrepressible Kante.
The Chelsea man has been instrumental for France, breaking up play in typically tireless fashion at the base of their midfield and providing a platform for Paul Pogba to shine. According to Opta, only Russia's Roman Zobnin has made a higher combined total of tackles and interceptions than Kante since the tournament began.
Most tackles and interceptions combined - World Cup 2018
He will need to continue in the same vein on Sunday. Modric has struggled when deployed in a deep-lying role by Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, but when Marcelo Brozovic has played behind him, as he did against England and as he surely will do against France, he has been freed up to control games. So far in Russia, Croatia have dominated possession in five games out of six.
Modric has been at the heart of more or less everything. As well as playing more minutes and covering more ground than any of his team-mates, he has played the most passes, created the most chances and even scored the joint-most goals. Stop him and France will go a long way to stopping Croatia. Few players are better-equipped for the job than Kante.
Mbappe v Pivaric
It took just 14 seconds of France's quarter-final against Belgium for Mbappe to show Jan Vertonghen that he was in for a long afternoon. With an electrifying burst of pace from a standing position, he left the Tottenham man in his wake before firing a dangerous low cross into the Belgium box.
Mbappe was a thorn in Verthonghen's side from start to finish in Saint Petersburg, and after Croatia's first-choice left-back Ivan Strinic was forced off with a groin injury against England, it could be a similar story for his understudy Josip Pivaric on Sunday. The 29-year-old, who has only started one game in Russia, faces the toughest test of his career.
Mbappe has been unplayable on France's right flank at times. The 19-year-old produced a devastating display against Argentina in the last 16, scoring twice and winning the penalty for the opening goal, and he was similarly impressive against Belgium. Having scored three goals in six games so far, he is the bookmakers' favourite for the Golden Ball award.
Most attempted dribbles - World Cup 2018
He is a full-back's nightmare and the statistics will have Pivaric sweating. According to Opta, Mbappe has attempted more dribbles (46) than any other player in Russia. Croatia's only hope could be to double up on him, which would require another industrious shift from left winger Ivan Perisic, but the reality is that even that might not be enough.
Varane v Mandzukic
Of course, Croatia are not without a goal threat themselves. Mario Mandzukic has been excellent in Russia and brings considerable pedigree to the centre-forward role. He was in the right place and the right time to score against Denmark in the last 16, and his semi-final winner against England was another example of his nose for goal.
In Raphael Varane, he will face a familiar foe. Mandzukic has come up against the Real Madrid centre-back on a number of occasions at club level, including the second leg of last season's Champions League semi-final at the Bernabeu, when he scored twice as Juventus agonisingly missed out on a place in the final.
One of Mandzukic's biggest strengths is his aerial strength, but Varane will hope to match him at the Luzhniki Stadium. According to Opta, the 25-year-old is one of only six players to have won more aerial duels than him over the course of the World Cup.
Most aerials won - World Cup 2018
Varane is one of only two players to have played every minute of France's World Cup campaign along with Kante, but judging by his imperious performance against Romelu Lukaku's Belgium in the semi-final, fatigue is unlikely to be an issue against Croatia. France will need more of the same from him against the in-form Mandzukic.
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