ANALYSIS: Defence enough for fortunate France

Alan O’Brien 

Despite never coming close to engineering a cohesive team performance, Didier Deschamps possesses the World Cup trophy for the second time. Individual talent, shining through at both ends of the pitch, dragged France to glory. Croatia, who executed their gameplan to near-perfection, can only reflect on what might have been. Continue reading

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PREVIEW: Vrsaljko has what it takes to vanquish France

Alan O’Brien 

Over the course of this captivating World Cup, only Spain have favoured the left flank more than Croatia. But if the Vatreni are to spring an upset, and emulate La Roja‘s first-time triumph in 2010, a change of tack is needed. The path Zlatko Dalic chooses will ultimately decide his nation’s fate: the right fork may lead to glory, but the left will surely invite the wrath of Kylian Mbappé. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Croatia full-backs punish Southgate stasis

Alan O’Brien 

This was to be Gareth Southgate’s greatest test yet. After a facile route to the semi-final, throughout which England’s 3-3-2-2 was never seriously tested, the question was this: could Southgate adjust when the going got tough? The answer, after an enthralling clash with Croatia, is an emphatic no. Continue reading

PREVIEW: Croatia 4-3-3 may spell curtains for Southgate

Alan O’Brien 

Neither England nor Croatia have reached the last-four of a World Cup in a generation. Both fell at the penultimate hurdle last time out, in 1990 and 1998 respectively. But now, with all the favourites fallen by the wayside, a golden opportunity to progress further has materialised that only one nation can grab. And, with Gareth Southgate firmly wedded to his preferred system, it’s difficult to avoid the following conclusion: victory and defeat depend almost exclusively on the tactical whims of one Zlatko Dalic. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Shapeless Argentina shame Sampaoli

Alan O’Brien 

Few foresaw such a tragic twist to the Jorge Sampaoli story; and, yet, here we are. An unqualified managerial success beyond his home country of Argentina, Sampaoli’s hand on the tiller seemed certain to return the Albiceleste to glory.

But now Argentina are facing elimination from this World Cup at the first hurdle. And Sampaoli, just one year after securing his dream job, is staring failure in the face for the first time. He only has himself to blame. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Super Eagles fail to prey upon cumbersome Croats

Alan O’Brien 

Zlatko Dalic got away with one here. With both Argentina and Iceland looming, the Croatian coach went all out to secure a priceless win. But, if anything, his 4-2-4 made achieving that goal more difficult than it needed to be. Continue reading