Football

Mentally strong Croats v flexible French

World Cup final showcases intriguing contrast of styles

Croatia have relied on mental strength to defy limited resources and become the smallest nation in 68 years to reach a World Cup final, said defender Dejan Lovren.

Zlatko Dalic's men have taken the long road to a meeting with France in Moscow on Sunday after three passages of extra-time and two penalty shoot-outs in the knockout phase to squeeze past Denmark, Russia and England.

Born to Croatian parents in the Bosnian city of Zenica, Lovren was forced to flee to Germany at just three when the Bosnian War broke out in 1992.

His family eventually settled back in Croatia and the Liverpool defender believes a tough upbringing and fierce desire to make the nation of just over four million people proud are key motivating factors.

"I think it is our mentality. We went through again a lot... wars, all these things, and even now the situation is not the best. But it is unbelievable how many talents we have in sports," said Lovren after Croatia ended England's World Cup dreams with a 2-1 semi-final win.

"We knew we could write history and we did it.

"Now there is only one game left to make it forever."

REVENGE

Lovren and his teammates have already gone further than Croatia ever have before at a World Cup, but can become legends if they gain revenge for France's semi-final victory in the 1998 World Cup.

French right-back Lilian Thuram scored his only two goals in a storied 142-cap international career in that semi-final 20 years ago.

"I think now in many years people will remember us, not the '98 team," added Lovren.

"This is what I wanted, this is why I'm proud and I deserve this. I was only nine. I remember my mum was screaming and she was crying after the France game.

"People were talking about Lilian Thuram, where did he come from? Maybe it is our time for revenge."

Having seen off Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium in 90 minutes and with an extra day's rest following their semi-final on Tuesday, France will be heavy favourites to make amends for defeat by Portugal on home soil in the final of Euro 2016 at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.

However, Croatia have grown used to beating the odds, and will relish the role of underdogs once more.

"France are definitely the favourites, there is no hiding from that, but we like that," added Lovren.

"We like to be the underdogs from day one. Without being arrogant. I think if you are in the final, you are the two best teams in the world."

France came into the World Cup with a squad of players who were considered in some quarters to be the best in Russia.

Didier Deschamps could even opt to leave out Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Alexandre Lacazette, Adrien Rabiot, Kingsley Coman and Aymeric Laporte.

But the football France have played largely hasn't matched the talent at Deschamps' disposal, and after losing their semi-final to France, Belgium stars Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois dubbed Les Bleus' approach as "anti-football".

France captain Hugo Lloris, however, insists that France's ability to switch from a more attacking game, like they employed in the 4-3 win over Argentina, to a more counter-attacking style against Belgium is testament to their flexibility.

COMPLETE TEAM

He said: "I think we are quite complete as a team.

"We can play in different ways, in different styles.

"But the most important thing is that all the players are involved to help the team.

"Everybody tries to work and run for the team and do their best.

"As you say, we have plenty of talented players, but that is the case for all the teams involved...

"The mental side is very important, and if you want success in the competition, you need strong basics, especially defensively because when you defend well, you have more chance to win games."

Lloris also defended Deschamps amid criticism that he was setting up a talented French side too defensively, saying: "I think the manager deserves a lot of credit because against Argentina and Uruguay, and even (against Belgium), his plan was perfect.

"We adapt a bit the way we play against our opponents, and this is to his credit." - AFP

 

 

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