Michael Place MOSCOW Russia (Xinhua) --
We identify five
key battles that could decide the outcome of
Sunday’s World Cup final between France and Croatia.
• Benjamin Pavard
vs. Ivan Perisic
Benjamin Pavard has been one of the revelations
of the tournament in the right-back position for
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.
• 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.
• 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
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
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.
• 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
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
• Hugo Lloris vs.
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