It was the second meeting of the two FIFA World Cup 2018 finalists since their historic night in Russia as France travelled to the Stadion Maksimir to face off with Croatia.
This Nations League encounter was a follow-up to their previous meeting in September, which France won by a relatively comfortable scoreline of 4-2. Tonight’s win, however, was far from comfortable from Les Bleus’ point of view.
The visitors raced to an early lead after Barcelona superstar Antoine Griezmann pulled the trigger to launch a rocket of a strike past a helpless Dominik Livakovic as the ball smashed into the crossbar before heading into the goal.
France were comfortable in possession in the first half, but the second 45 minutes had a different complexion to it.
Croatia turned up the heat after the restart and pinned France into their half and played with immense purpose, coming close to scoring on more than a few occasions. The hosts drew a few smart saves out of French captain Hugo Lloris restored parity after a stunning 68th minute-finish from Nikola Vlasic, which came as a result of some intelligent work from Luka Modric and co.
Ultimately, the visitors stole their lead back with two majestic passes — the first from Paul Pogba, and the follow-up from Lucas Digne — to set up Kylian Mbappe’s 79th-minute winner.
This win takes France level on points with Portugal at ten apiece, setting up an explosive encounter in Portugal next month.
Here, we take a look at the major talking points from the game as Didier Deschamps’ men registered a crucial 2-1 win over Croatia.
#5 Croatia’s alarming lack of clean sheets since the World Cup final
Zlatko Dalic’s men built a reputation for themselves as one of the most exciting underdog sides to watch for a neutral, particularly after their exploits at the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia. However, ever since reaching their first-ever World Cup final, they have struggled more often than not.
This is particularly applicable to their defence, which has struggled significantly in the recent past. In the ongoing Nations League campaign, they have failed to keep even one clean sheet in their four games, and in fact, conceded four goals on two separate occasions, albeit against the reigning world champions and the reigning Euro and Nations League champions.
If that isn’t enough evidence, there’s more where that came from.
Since their historic World Cup final against tonight’s opponents in Russia, 2018, the Vatreni have managed an astonishingly low tally of three (!) shut outs in 20 appearances in all competitions, including international friendlies. These came against England, Slovakia, and Hungary. The last of which, against Marco Rossi’s Hungary, was almost exactly a year ago today.
Despite the loss of key players, particularly that of World Cup hero Danijel Subasic, Dalic has a herculean task at hand — to shore up an extremely porous defence ahead of the upcoming Euro campaign.
#4 An apparent weakness in a golden French generation
Apart from being arguably the best international side in football, it’s no secret that France, in terms of depth, are undisputedly at the pinnacle of the sport. The champions have a ridiculous amount of talent to call upon, enough to fill more than two entire XIs from top to bottom.
However, if there is one spot where Les Bleus fall short, it is perhaps at right-back.
First-choice right-back Benjamin Pavard was given a much-needed rest after playing a few back-to-back games and putting in an admirable shift against Cristiano Ronaldo in their previous game. Since Leo Dubois had to return to France due to COVID-19, Deschamps was forced to use left-back Ferland Mendy on the right.
Even the versatile Pavard, who was the go-to right-back during France’s victorious World Cup campaign, played 28 of his 36 games in the 2017/18 campaign at centre-back, before being converted into an out-and-out full-back after his 2018 heroics.
The veteran manager also experimented with Moussa Sissoko on the right, further highlighting a lack of depth in this area of the pitch.
Although Leo Dubois is another option up their sleeve, the depth on the right pales in comparison to that of the left, as they have the likes of Lucas Digne, Ferland Mendy, Lucas Hernandez, Benjamin Mendy, among other options to call upon. Their depth in central defence is a whole another story, as they have nearly ten centre-backs to choose from, including the uncapped yet exciting Jules Kounde.
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Published 15 Oct 2020, 04:33 IST