Where will the World Cup final be won and lost?

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MOSCOW, July 13, 2018 (BSS/XINHUA) – We identify five key battles that
could decide the outcome of Sunday’s World Cup final between France and
Croatia.

1. Benjamin Pavard vs. Ivan Perisic

Benjamin Pavard has been one of the revelations of the tournament in the
right-back position for France. The Stuttgart player has been rock-solid in
defence while also carrying a threat going forward; his scintillating volley
with the outside of his right boot against Argentina is a contender for goal
of the tournament.

The 22-year-old will need to be on his game against left-winger Ivan
Perisic, who hit top form in Croatia’s 2-1 victory over England by scoring
his side’s second-half equalizer and setting up the winner for Mario
Mandzukic.

2. Raphael Varane vs. Mario Mandzukic

Raphael Varane has arguably been the best central defender of the World
Cup, forming a near-impregnable partnership with Samuel Umtiti. The 25-year-
old put in a faultless display in his team’s semifinal victory over Belgium,
using his speed, aerial prowess and positional awareness to repel countless
Red Devil attacks, particularly in the second half.

His chief task on Sunday will be to quell the threat posed by Mario
Mandzukic. Croatia’s Juventus striker has not been in the best of form in
Russia but his opportunistic winner against England shows that he doesn’t
need many chances to make a difference.

3. N’Golo Kante/Paul Pogba vs. Luka Modric/Ivan Rakitic

Paul Pogba and, particularly, N’Golo Kante have held France’s midfield
together with their tireless box-to-box running, clever distribution and
willingness to track back. At no stage of this World Cup will those qualities
be more important for Les Bleus than on Sunday against a midfield boasting
Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

Modric has been superb in this tournament, relishing a mainly free-roaming
roll in front of Marcelo Brozovic to be his side’s chief creative weapon.
Kante, Paul Pogba, Varane and Umtiti will be wary not to afford Modric space
anywhere near the final third, where his incisive passing and powerful right
foot could lead to France’s undoing.

4. Kylian Mbappe vs. Dejan Lovren

Kylian Mbappe, 19, has only needed a few moments of magic to confirm his
status as a new star of the game. In the round of 16 he became the first
teenager since Pele in 1958 to score twice in the same World Cup match as his
side beat Argentina 4-3.

While he didn’t score in either of France’s last two matches, the Paris
Saint-Germain forward menaced the defences of Uruguay and Belgium with his
speed and trickery. Croatia’s central defensive pairing of Dejan Lovren and
Domagoj Vida aren’t renowned for their pace and will hope that Mbappe is
given few opportunities to run at them, particularly on the counter-attack.

5. Hugo Lloris vs. Danijel Subasic

In a World Cup of fine margins it wouldn’t surprise to see Sunday’s result
hinge on a goalkeeper’s save – or error. France keeper Hugo Lloris has
brushed aside an indifferent season for Tottenham Hotspur with some fine
performances at this World Cup, including clean sheets in their past two
matches.

Croatia’s Danijel Subasic has been no less impressive and was his team’s
hero in successive penalty shootout victories over Denmark and Russia. There
is every chance that the keeper who can best hold his nerve on Sunday will be
the one on the winning side.

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