Zlatko Dalic and Croatia’s incredible World Cup journey came to an end on Sunday as they fell to France 4-2 in the final despite a heroic effort.
Despite the heartbreaking result, Dalic can hold his head high having led Croatia to their best-ever finish at a World Cup, and indeed he may even count his side unlucky to lose as they dominated the final.
Here’s a closer look at how Dalic and Croatia fared in the tournament showpiece.
Goals – 2
Shots – 14
Shots on target – 4
Possession – 66%
Pass Accuracy – 83%
Dalic went with the same lineup that had emerged triumphant in the semi-final against England, retaining Marcelo Brozovic as a defensive midfielder in order to free Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic from defensive duties.
It allowed Croatia to dominate possession, and in truth they are likely to wonder how they weren’t able to convert their dominance into more goals. Even allowing for France’s well-drilled defence, Croatia had their moments, but their shooting – just four of their 14 shots were on target – let them down.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Did Dalic err on the side of familiarity with his formation? The talking point after Croatia’s penalty shooutout win over Russia in the quarter-finals was that a 4-2-3-1 didn’t allow Modric to get forward enough, and the 4-1-4-1 is what earned this side their signature 3-0 win over Argentina in the group stages.
But Croatia were guaranteed to control possession almost by default, given France’s counter-attacking set-up. Playing Andrej Kramaric from the start in a 4-2-3-1 would have added some thrust up front.
Dalic and his players will go down as heroes even though they ended up losing in their first major shot at international glory. Indeed, they matched France in just about every aspect other than scoring goals, and even there, they’ll be entitled to wonder how they fell short. They’ll no doubt curse their luck – a debatable VAR penalty decision and an own goal accounted for two of France’s goals. But Dalic’s brave, determined Croatia won hearts all over the world.
RATING – 6/10
It was a dramatic final that barely let the French manager exhale until the final whistle, but as that whistle rang, it brought a moment of history as the 49-year-old joined Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo as the only people to win the World Cup as both player and manager.
Here’s an analysis of how Deschamps fared on Sunday.
Goals – 4
Shots – 7
Shots on target – 6
Possession – 34%
Pass Accuracy – 68%
France lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1, with the tactics they’d been using throughout the tournament – sitting deep, soaking up the pressure and ready to spring a counter. Indeed, Croatia were ideal opponents for Deschamps, who has made this France team content to let their opposition have the ball.
It was nonetheless a risky strategy and for the entire first half France weren’t in the game. Yet they led 2-1 at the end before running away with the game in the second period.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
This was the rare game where N’Golo Kante’s impact was limited – he had fewer touches than anyone else in the first half – and it was to Deschamps’ credit that he acted swiftly in taking his ever-reliable midfielder off soon after the break.
That France scored twice so quickly after Steven N’Zonzi came on, both from surging runs in midfield, was telling. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the game changed on that substitution.
Deschamps has been criticised for putting the handbrakes on this thrilling French team too much, but on Sunday he earned the ultimate vindication. His style has led Les Bleus to a second World Cup trophy, an accolade no one will ever take away from him.
That it added to his personal collection, having won the trophy as a player, only added to his reputation, and it’s safe to say no manager has emerged with his reputation more enhanced this summer.
RATING – 8/10
France rode their luck before roaring past Croatia to win the World Cup for a second time as a thrilling tournament came to a fitting conclusion.
The 4-2 victory under stormy skies at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium means Didier Deschamps’ side have buried the pain of their defeat in the Euro 2016 final on home soil.
Here’s how some France players reacted to the result.