Two individually brilliant team-mates sacrificing their game for the team has seen Rakitic and Griezmann driving France and Croatia to the World Cup final
Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Moscow
Ivan Rakitic was only ten when Croatia reached the semi-final in France in 1998 and his hero was Robert Prosinecki. In a team with Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Slaven Bilic, his idol remained relatively unnoticed even after scoring two goals. However, Prosinecki’s strikes were at least counted whereas, in case of Ivan Rakitic, it is still just that one official goal in the books, scored against Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
His other two ‘legitimate’ strikes were from the fifth and last penalties against Denmark and Russia in back-to-back tie-breakers in the round of 16 and quarter-final. No other player has done it at a World Cup. But these two goals remain uncounted in FIFA’s records.
Never mind, Croatian people will never forget Rakitic’s contribution to take them to the doorstep of history.
Before the all-important grand finale of the World Cup, Rakitic had no hesitation in declaring that they would be playing their biggest match on Sunday. As Croatia had spent most minutes on the pitch in Russia, including 90 minutes of extra time, the Barcelona man was asked to comment on the tiredness factor.
Rakitic said, “there will be excess power and energy. We’ll carry one another. No worries about that. This is the biggest game for all of us and we want to leave the field with the feeling that we’d given our everything. We need just a bit of luck.”
France have their base camp in Istra, around 75 kilometres from Moscow. They had their training session on Friday and Antoine Griezmann faced the media, 48 hours before the final.
In the tournament, he has been the coach’s player. Calmness is the key word under Didier Deschamps. There were other teams who spoke highly about their talents, but they have gone home early. On the contrary, France have won five out of their six matches so far and not a single game has gone beyond 90 minutes.
Their captain in goal, Hugo Lloris, has never been outspoken. Their leader out in the field, Griezmann, whom people are fondly calling ‘Grizou’ now to find similarities with Zizou, continues to let his football do the talking.
But he had to be aggressive when the English press asked him to comment on Thibaut Courtois’ comment of ‘anti-football’ about France.
Griezmann said, “I don’t care what Courtois has said. He was a member of our Atletico Madrid set-up. He knows a thing or two about defensive games. A compact defence is the most important weapon in our style of football. I know when to accelerate the pace of the game or when to slow it. If we win, we shall never be bothered about our style. Nobody will.”
Griezmann has changed his individual game, too. Two years ago at the European Championships, he was the highest scorer with six goals. That he has changed into a team-man more than the hitman was evident when he said, “yes, I scored six, but we lost the Euro final. Now I want to score less and help the team to score more goals and win the trophy.”
Both sides love to play collectively. France may have more individually brilliant players, Croatia have warriors who can sacrifice everything for their leader Luka Modric on the field.
On Sunday night, Luzhniki will be roaring loud. And make sure you don’t miss the action of Grizou and Rakitic since they will leave no stones unturned to lift the trophy for their respective teams.