So close, yet so far” is the phrase that encapsulated Croatia’s fortunes in the 2018 World Cup final. Croatia suffered a gut-wrenching 4-2 loss against France at the Luzhniki Stadium with goals from Mario Mandzukic(OG), Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe securing Les Bleus’ second World Cup trophy.

Croatia started the first half in fine fashion by restricting the French midfield from having any time on the ball. Their high pressing style made life difficult for France during the initial stages of the final. The Croats were unlucky to go behind in the 18th minute after Mario Mandzukic headed past his own net from Antoine Griezmann’s freekick.

Ivan Perisic equalised for The Blazers in the 28th minute after his left-footed drive whizzed past Hugo Lloris, leaving him with no chance to keep the French lead intact. Croatia seemed to have found their stride after equalizing but an unfortunate handball from goalscorer Ivan Perisic, from a Griezmann corner in the 36th minute saw France awarded a penalty which was calmly dispatched by Griezmann.

The second half saw Croatia chase the game which resulted in large gaps being left between the midfield and defence. France took advantage of the situation and looked to attack Croatia on the break. Les Bleus took the lead a minute before the hour mark with Paul Pogba finely placing the ball beyond Danijel Subasic.

Kylian Mbappe completed the rout with a piledriver in the 65th minute, with Mandzukic reducing arrears for Croatia from a calamitous mistake from Hugo Lloris in the 69th minute.

In this article, we look at the three reasons why Croatia failed to secure the win against France in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final.

#1 Atrocious defending in the penalty box cost Croatia their first World Cup trophy

Croatia’s defence has earned plaudits during the course of the 2018 World Cup. The defensive quartet of Vrsjalko, Lovren, Vida and Strinic have put in some splendid performance keeping the attacks of Denmark, Russia and England at bay.

Although Croatia kept their shape in the first half, they were undone by some shoddy defending by their forwards in the penalty box and the Croatian defence failed to marshall their troops in the penalty box which led to costly errors.

They were punished in the 18th minute after Mario Mandzukic failed to clear the ball and instead slotted the ball past his own keeper, giving France the lead.

Although Croatia pegged back through Ivan Perisic’s equalizer, they were undone yet again after Perisic handled the ball in his own box from an Antoine Griezmann corner in the 36th minute. VAR spotted Perisic handling the ball and Griezmann calmly scored from the penalty spot, sending Subasic the wrong way.

Finals are won and lost during such moments and Croatia suffered from two calamitous mistakes on the night. This gave France an upper hand which resulted in the French piling more misery on the Croatians in the second half, with the game finishing 4-2 in favour of France.

#2 Improper game management during the final heaps misery on Croatia

Game Management or game planning is an important aspect in the knock out fixtures, finals. The manner in which a team reacts after taking the lead or falling behind plays an absolutely vital role in deciding the winners and losers.

Croatia did not phase, pace their game in an appropriate fashion during the final against France. France, who had a less arduous path to the finals in comparison to Croatia, were obviously the fresher of the two teams and this aspect was reflected on the scoreline.

After three exhausting knockout games against Denmark, Russia and England, Croatia were certainly going to feel the after-effects which should have led them to think of a plan which would help them conserve their energy, at the same time making life difficult for their opponents.

Instead, Croatia looked to have a go at France from the beginning and their high pressing style aided them only during the first quarter after which they started losing their steam. On the other hand, France soaked up the pressure and made their opponents commit silly mistakes which took them to halftime with a comfortable 2-1 lead at halftime.

In the second half, Croatia committed more men forward leaving gaps between the midfield and defence, which was exploited by the likes of Griezmann, Matuidi, Mbappe and Pogba. This proved to be an achilles heel for Croatia and resulted in France winning their second World Cup trophy

#3 Midfield, Full Backs flatter to deceive on the big stage, allowing Mbappe and Griezmann to run riot

Croatia’s midfield and Full Backs have played a vital role in helping their nation reach the finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup but flattered to deceive in the final showdown against France.

Croatia fell behind during the first half with an own goal from Mario Mandzukic and a penalty scored by Griezmann giving the French a 2-1 lead at the end of the forty-five. The situation needed Croatia to attack with further verve, at the same time defend in numbers thereby preventing France from countering.

Unfortunately, Croatia didn’t perform the tasks mentioned above, allowing the likes of Pogba, Griezmann and Mbappe to control proceedings and run riot in the second half. Croatia go with a three-man midfield with Modric, Rakitic acting as a box to box midfielders with Marcelo Brozovic dictating proceedings from a deeper position. Brozovic also performs the task of shielding his defence.

As France went into the break with a 2-1 lead, all three of Croatia’s midfielders went forward, often ignoring their defensive responsibilities. This resulted in France having a lot of space in the middle of the park which resulted in Mbappe, Griezmann running at the heart of the Croatian defence.

Matters were further compounded with poor displays from Croatia’s full-backs, Sime Vrsjalko and Ivan Strinic. Vrsjalko lost 6/11 duels, completed only 3/7 long balls and was booked for his rash challenge on Griezmann towards the end of the game.

Some of Vrsaljko’s decision making was questionable as the Right Back from Atletico Madrid went for a goal in situations where he should have crossed the ball. This was seen during the 75th minute when his attempt from outside the box went wide off the post.

On the other hand, Ivan Strinic started the game on a bright note, marshalling Mbappe pretty well. As the game progressed, Strinic charged forwards leaving his Centre Backs up against the French attack. He couldn’t deal with Mbappe’s pace and was caught out of position on countless occasions.

Strinic completed only 76% of his passes, failed to execute an accurate long ball (0/3 long balls completed) and lost 9 out of 11 duels before being hauled off in the 81st minute for Marko Pjaca.

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