The World Cup semifinals were truly shocking for many, but not for those who have carefully followed the tournament. Belgium paid the price of their shortcut strategy and England paid the price of not being versatile enough. Now, the two most versatile (and at the same time, the most stable) teams, France and Croatia are going to play in the final.
While the opponents were lost in strategic confusions, these two stuck to their original strategy and made the necessary, small amendments in the games.
Although their strategies vary drastically, both sides draw the biggest strength from collective action. When the game is this square, you might think that individual talents can make all the difference, but I would say Croatia's success in dictating terms will determine the result.
One thing is obvious about this game, that Croatia will dominate and France will counterattack. Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic has proved many times in the tournament that he has full confidence in his strategy. And despite not having the lead on a couple of occasions, Croatia never lost the control of a game.
This means that Dalic is less likely to fall into the same trap as Roberto Martinez, who drastically changed Belgium's strategy to stop the French from counterattacking. Doing so only contributed to chaos, because when both sides are firmly counterattacking there is not much to develop collectively in the offense.
It is actually in chaos where individual talents will be more important, and France can dominate that area. Didier Deschamps is certainly aware of this fact and that his team does not have a strategy to dominate the game. He was very lucky that the only time France was behind in the tournament was against reckless Argentina, and it did not need to have a sophisticated attacking plan to create time and space against Sampaoli's team.
This means France will have to counterattack, but only because it is better prepared to do so. This gives the initiative to Croatia to set the terms of the game. It will be Zlatko Dalic's team that will decide where the game is going to be played and when this gives the upper hand to Croatia since the ball is always faster than any player on the pitch.
To make matters worse for France, consider the second half of the game between England and Croatia. Dalic's team constantly shifted wings and created space in the stretched out English defense because English players were simply not fast enough. Whenever Modric or Rakitic played a long ball to shift to the other wing, Vrsaljko was left unmarked and easily crossed the ball into the penalty box. If France let Croatia do the same thing, it is very likely that the Les Blues will be punished.
At this point, the other determinant will be how good Deschamps's team can press the Croatian midfield. To stop Croatian long balls from reaching the wings, Kante, Pogba and Matuidi have to work a lot, and clearly, they have a better chance than lonely Jordan Henderson. Either way, no one can easily claim that France is the clear favorites, but Croatia will be motivated by the opportunity to make history.
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