Are remote controls being allowed to be carried by the two playing teams on the field of play in the World Cup?
On the surface it seems a silly question — certainly the silliest of queries. But, is it?
The maturity displayed by the young French squad, their game management, their ability to press on the gas and take the foot off the pedal, as and when needed, indicates that all the 11 French players have kind of been allowed to carry a remote control with them on the field of play – to control the pace of the game as per their will.
Be it in the Round of 16 match against Argentina, or the quarter-final against Uruguay, the Les Bleus never allowed the match to shift out of their hands. That was followed by another clinical display in the semi-final against Belgium, a team which till then was almost scoring at will, or should we say for fun.
Slowing it down frustrates any opposition and this French side are quite masters at it, as much they are in counter attacks. The calm on display has been exceptional. Great teams are always made of such stuff.
It all leads to another question – Did Italy play in the current World Cup?
On the surface it seems another silly question – certainly one of the silliest of queries, the second one precise in maybe the last two minutes.
Looking deep, did anyone really miss Italy? Bitter rivals on the pitch, France have been quite like a shadow of the great Italian sides which have enthralled us over the decades.
The compact defence, with that subtle creativity in the midfield, the transition from defence to attack and vice versa to close down the doors fast have been so typical Italian, despite it all being French.
It’s hard to find a chink in the French armour. They have utilised the pace of Kylian Mbappe to initiate it. Mbappe, barely 19, has the strength, technique and the speed to get past any; and invariably, he has led the transition from defence to attack. Support from N’golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Antonie Griezmann and the air-tight back-four with Hugo Lloris under the bar, they look quite invincible.
That was all French, but not everything can be French; for there’s Croatia too.
Croatia are adventurous, the real dark horses. The passion, the self-belief and the ability to rise whenever down, defines them. They are real fighters, the sentimental favourites, much like the poor cousins in comparison to the richer French.
Can Croatia win?
There’s no reason why they can’t; there’s no reason to believe they will.
Even as all may speak of them having played 90 more minutes than the super-fit French side sitting fresher than the Croats after their 90-minute decimation of Belgium in the semis, the Croats have just gone on and on.
Quality wise, they are eager and capable to match France in almost every department. Luka Modric and Rakitic have been splendid all throughout, both complementing each other perfectly. If ringmaster Modric has been the fulcrum, the engine of Rakitic has kept Croatia going. Add Ivan Perisic to the list and Mario Mandzukic to the duo, the quartet turns deadlier.
But it’s more of the battle of wits for Croatia to deal with. It’s about the snatching away the remote control from the French and be smarter than the French who have been smartest till now.
France have been capable to play percentage Football every day and in the modern day Football, that’s the quality which winning combinations are built on. The French are the hardest to break, defending and attacking in numbers.
Croatia on the other hand have not much been able to adapt to the opposition and are a bit more predictable. In fact, they almost got caught by an inspired Russian display in the quarters.
France go into the match as overwhelming favourites and as of now, unless they self-destroy themselves, Croatia will have to finish second best. But life is all about those 97 minutes on the field (including added time on an average) and if Croatia can score early, that too in a World Cup final, it will be a different battle altogether.
The better team will win.
- (Nilanjan Datta, Media Officer, Indian National Team)