Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic lead Croatia in losing World Cup final effort
Although Croatia had more control and were arguably the better side in the first half of Saturday's World Cup final, they were on the wrong end of an own goal and had a penalty awarded against them for handball, both after set pieces.
They also started strong after the break, but that meant taking more risks and leaving space for Kylian Mbappe, which proved their undoing in France's 4-2 victory. Accumulated fatigue probably did play a part, just enough to briefly lose focus in key situations; France were brutal in punishing Croatia in those moments.
Croatia allowed France very little in the first half; their lines were compact and fluid, their balance -- particularly on the flanks -- was almost impeccable. They refused to give up after going down and did not just hoof balls forward; their attacks still made sense even when they were obviously worn down and dejected. Throughout the tournament, Croatia showed remarkable psychological strength, and that was also true in the final.
Defending set pieces was again clumsy and done from too deep and cost Croatia dearly. In the second half, they couldn't keep their lines together, which meant defensive errors started to surface and France's attacking transition finished them off.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Apart from, perhaps, not preparing a different approach to defending set pieces and being hesitant with substitutions, there wasn't really much that Zlatko Dalic could have done differently. His preparation and tactics were good and his changes logical albeit late, but he couldn't influence the little details that, in the end, made a difference.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Danijel Subasic, 6 -- Produced a couple of key saves and his ball distribution was very accurate, but he could have been positioned better for one or two of France's goals.
DF Sime Vrsaljko, 7 -- Good in the challenge and accurate with his passing, but he lost several possessions too often and his attacking contribution was limited; his overlaps and crosses were less dangerous than in previous games.
DF Dejan Lovren, 7 -- Was given space early, but didn't take risks and refused to advance with the ball, instead trying long passes. He often looks nervous as usual, but handled most things in defence.
DF Domagoj Vida, 6 -- Focused and calm, he picked up plenty of free balls and largely held his ground, but his concentration dropped toward the end of the game and he looked clumsy in a few situations.
DF Ivan Strinic, 6 -- Lost too many challenges for his position and, while he exerted attacking pressure through his runs down the left, it often led to nothing. That was to be expected, though, given Strinic had Kylian Mbappe to worry about.
MF Marcelo Brozovic, -- 6 Put in lots of work in midfield and had some good, long passes, but he also missed several tackles and was vulnerable in the air.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- Stepped up to take responsibility as Luka Modric was stifled by French midfielders; Rakitic did well in both directions, producing a range of dribbles, crosses, tackles and interceptions.
MF Luka Modric, 7 -- This was not his game. Didier Deschamps' side paid special attention to him, denying space and time on the ball. Still, even when Modric is not on top of his game, he's still rather good.
FW Ante Rebic, 6 -- Worked hard all game, trying to find pockets of space in the French defence and create for others with his runs and dribbles. He could not do much in positional attacks, though.
FW Mario Mandzukic, 8 -- Made history by becoming the first player to score an own goal in a World Cup final, then added to that by scoring at the right end, which only served to reaffirm his status as a big-game player. Put in fantastic work defensively and in the press, winning so many challenges.
FW Ivan Perisic, 7 -- Scored a goal and kept balance on the left by helping out defensively and positioning himself correctly to defend French counters. In the second half, though, he focused more on trying to break through offensively.
FW Andrej Kramaric, N/R -- Came on after 71 minutes for Rebic but had little impact.
FW Marko Pjaca, N/R -- Came on after 81 minutes for Strinic to try and inspire a comeback