World Cup Russia 2018: Calling the Final.

I was half-right. I called Belgium and Croatia in the final, but the Frenchies beat the Belgians in a sort-of boring game. Proud to say I got Croatia right, though.

England looked like they over-relied on Route One. Against weaker teams, that can work. They beat Panama badly, and they would’ve beat Tunisia worse than 2-1 if the ref had made a few more calls. They were able to draw fouls near the box, win free kicks, PKs, do well on corners, etc. Against teams closer in skill, that didn’t work as well. Belgium beat them twice, Colombia could’ve beaten them if they’d played more seriously throughout the game. I’m not the best analyst, but in England’s last two games, the semi and the third-place match, the front line really looked like a bunch of poor decision-makers. They made wrong decisions about whether and when to pass or shoot, and they took too long to make decisions– even the right decision. On several occasions, the young guns up front held the ball just a fraction of a second too long and missed the opportunity to shoot, to play through, to pass to a wide-open teammate. Again, that’s not based on any expert-level detailed analysis, but it sure did look like Southgate’s triangle and circle buttons were jammed.

I think Belgium, France, and yes, Croatia have been the class of the tournament so far, and I’d like to throw in Brazil when Neymar was playing seriously instead of flopping. England’s not at that level yet. Given where they landed in the Round of 16, they went about as far as was expected.

Barring a disastrously embarrassing performance tomorrow, either team would make a fine champion. They’ve both earned their way to the final… despite Belgium’s whining about France’s performance in the semi. All this nonsense about France playing too far back? Pfft. Belgium had 60% of the possession that game and got off some good shots, but France completely out-shot them. France shot more, both on- and off-target. Same number of offsides, Belgium had one extra corner. This wasn’t like ze early German performances, where one team completely and unquestionably dominated play but the other managed to score. This was much more even. France just won.

I’ve probably been a bit unfair in singling out Mbappé for flopping, because so many players on so many teams do it. But it’s frustrating to see such a talented player turn to that level of diving and flopping so early in his career. It’s disappointing to think that instead of seeing the next Messi or Ronaldo, we’re going to see the next Neymar. And yes, Messi and Ronaldo dive on occasion, but Neymar has become notorious for it, thus the comparison. So, Mbappé, please grow up and play great.

I’m rooting for Croatia to beat France for three big reasons. One, it’d be neat to see a new champion. Two, Croatia’s dark jerseys are the best in the tournament. And three, this Modric guy reminds me of a dorkier, less appreciated version of Pirlo. But France is better, and they have played well, so for the first time in the knockout round, I predict they’ll win.

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