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Three things we learned: France v Croatia

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France beat Croatia in the 2018 World Cup as a six-goal thriller yielded plenty of controversial and memorable moments.

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Les Bleus battled by Croatia as young stars Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba came up big in the second half to power past Croatia’s midfield veterans Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

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Below we take a look at the key storylines from what become a classic World Cup final.

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FRANCE GET VAR CALLS

There’s no doubting that the close calls went France’s way in the final, especially two key decisions.

First up: the VAR review on France’s first goal, an own goal by Mario Mandzukic, didn’t see Paul Pogba in an offside position when the free kick came in. Pogba was in an offside position when the ball was kicked and nudged into Mandzukic who headed into his own net, but the rules state that Pogba wouldn’t have been active until he made an attempt to challenge for the ball and by that time he was back onside in the second phase. He also wasn’t interfering with the goalkeeper so it appears that the rules were interpreted correctly in that case.

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Then came the huge moment, the handball call on Perisic from a corner. This is probably a 60/40 decision, with 60 in favor of it being a handball. Perisic’s hands were up and he put it towards the ball and stopped the ball from going towards several French players crashing towards goal. It’s gut-wrenching to use this in a World Cup final, but it was certainly worth reviewing.

Croatia will point to key decisions going against them and had VAR not been available to use, it’s unlikely the penalty kick would have been given.


CROATIA GUTSY BUT FALL

This World Cup final summed up the 2018 tournament nicely. It didn’t make much sense at all.

From the get-go Croatia took the game to France and pinned them back, creating plenty of chances and only conceding after a own goal from a set piece and then a debatable penalty kick.

Croatia’s goal came from a moment of magic from Ivan Perisic and they went close on several occasions with crosses into the box causing France so many problems. Hugo Lloris made fine saves and interceptions in the second half to keep France ahead and although Croatia lost the World Cup final, they can leave Russia with their heads held high.

It’s tough to know how they could’ve done anymore to win the trophy as Rebic, Perisic and Mandzukic showed up but the extra 90 minutes they’d play compared to France meant they were jaded in the final stages.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic didn’t quite have the same time and space they’ve had on previous games and we expected that but a sign of Croatia’s dominance was N'Golo Kante being subbed off in the second half as France lost control of the central midfield area. Kante’s replacement, Steven Nzonzi, helped to steady the ship for France but Croatia still looked dangerous as they made France’s defense look shaky after two-straight clean sheets against Uruguay and Belgium.

Croatia’s incredible run to their first-ever final didn’t end in glory but their performance on the day deserved more.


POGBA, MBAPPE DELIVER

This was supposed to be the final where Kylian Mbappe, just the fourth teenager in history to play in a World Cup final, announced himself.

And he became just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final. The other? Pele.

Mbappe, 19, spent most of the first half trying to help out Benjamin Pavard lock down Ivan Perisic on France’s right flank but in the second half he came to life, bursting forward on the break, then drilling home a fine strike from distance to etch his name into World Cup folklore.

Yet apart from Mbappe’s moment of brilliance the only other French player to truly stand tall in the final was Paul Pogba who scored a crucial third and battled valiantly in midfield as Modric and Rakitic tried to drag Croatia level and got the better of N’Golo Kante. After all of the criticism of him at Manchester United over the past two seasons, Pogba delivered several disciplined displays to drive his team to glory.

It is fair to say that France will be remembered as being pragmatic rather than electric when it comes to this World Cup but Deschamps’ defensive unit, although rattled for large spells in this game, held firm.

Rapahel Varane and Samuel Umtiti dug deep and even a mistake from Hugo Lloris couldn’t stop them. France trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds during the entire 2018 World Cup and they relied on their stars to deliver in key moments.

Mbappe and Pogba did that on Sunday on the biggest possible stage and both of those superstars will be entering, or about to enter, their prime for the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Three things we learned from France v. USMNT

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The U.S. men’s national team drew 1-1 with France in Lyon on Saturday as the youngsters came close to causing a huge surprise against one of the favorites to win the World Cup this summer.

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Julian Green put the USA 1-0 up right on half time to stun France, but Didier Deschamps’ side equalized late on through Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

Below is a look at what we learned from Dave Sarachan’s kids impressing against France.


CCV TO LEAD NEW-LOOK DEFENSE

The main reason the USMNT took such a young squad to Europe for these games against Ireland and France as for experience, and these youngster will have learned so much from playing on the road in tight games.

Especially in Lyon against a virtual first-choice France side.

10 of the USA’s starting 11 had less than 10 caps to their name, and that showed in a shaky start in a 3-5-2 formation. But Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga looked particularly assured, with both Shaq Moore and Antonee Robinson also impressing at wing back.

CCV and Miazga (who left the game early in the second half after a nasty clash of heads) have played together throughout the U.S. youth ranks and they will now get the chance to shine together for the USMNT. Carter-Vickers was particularly impressive as he stepped in and stopped attacks, plus kept Olivier Giroud quiet. The Tottenham Hotspur youngster is maturing rapidly.

Miazga’s ball-playing ability complements CCV power well and with DeAndre Yedlin and Moore to battle it out for the right back spot, plus Robinson pushing hard to start at left back, a long-term back four of Yedlin-CCV-Miazga-Robinson would be able to develop together over the next few years with all four playing for clubs across the top-flight of European soccer.

A special shoutout for Zack Steffen too, as the Columbus Crew goalkeeper looks to have cemented his spot as the heir to Tim Howard‘s throne as the USMNT’s starting stopper. Steffen came up big late on with a fine double-stop.

It’s a cliche, but you know what: the kids, they’re alright.


USMNT STILL A LONG WAY OFF

Yes, there were some promising displays, especially defensively, but let’s not get carried away here. This was a France side which had one eye on the World Cup kicking off in Russia next week.

And you can totally understand if a few of the French stars didn’t want to get injured and join the long list of heartbreaking World Cup absentees (Manuel Lanzini, Sergio Romero, Kamil Glik et al.) ahead of what is the biggest tournament of their careers so far.

The U.S. bunkered down and barely got in the France half in the first half but when they took the lead, they weathered the storm and despite Mbappe’s equalizer, the USMNT were fairly comfortable. But they were also far from adventurous in what resembled a 5-3-1-1 formation for most of the game.

This draw will give the young group confidence as U.S. Soccer will now focus on implementing Earnie Stewart’s plans as the new GM (appointed on Wednesday) will focus on hiring a new head coach over the summer.

A long, tough road to recovery is ahead but the nucleus of this side which drew at France should be given the chance to lead the USMNT to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.


WAKE-UP CALL FOR FRANCE

Boos rang out during spells of the game in Lyon as the home fans weren’t overjoyed with what they saw from their team in their final outing before flying to Russia on Sunday.

A virtual full-strength France started well but faded badly.

Didier Deschamps is under pressure (he has been for a while) and with the likes of Arsene Wenger and Zinedine Zidane now out of jobs, it’s likely that anything other than a trip to the World Cup final this summer will see the current France boss keep his job.

France looked disjointed and although Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba came close to scoring in the first half, they never really got out of second gear. Hugo Lloris shouldn’t have been beaten at his near post for the USA’s goal and Djibril Sidibe should have cleared the initial cross as a lapse in concentration cost Les Bleus.

Placed in Group C along with Denmark, Peru and Australia, France are still expected to get out of their group and go far this summer in Russia. But unless Deschamps’ men gel remarkably fast in the next few weeks, they won’t go all the way.

Three things learned: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev on Saturday, with Zinedine Zidane’s side winning a third-straight European cup.

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A game packed full of drama saw Mohamed Salah leave the pitch in tears early on after picking up a shoulder injury, while Real took the lead via Karim Benzema’s quick thinking after a horror moment for Loris Karius.

[ MORE: Ronaldo, Bale hint at Real Madrid exits

Liverpool reacted well to those blows as Sadio Mane equalized but then Gareth Bale jumped off the bench to score a stunning overhead kick goal, then Karius made another howler to allow Bale to score another and seal a record 13th European title for Real.

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Below is a look at what we learned from an encapsulating game as the curtain came down on the European season in style.


BALE’S BRILLIANCE WORTHY OF WINNING ANY FINAL

This is the stuff of dreams for Gareth Bale.

The Welshman was left out of the starting lineup in Zidane’s only big decision of the game as Isco and Karim Benzema were favored to partner Cristiano Ronaldo in attack ahead of him.

Bale made Zidane question his call after jumping off the bench to change the game.

He not only scored that stunning goal but he also sent in a fabulous cross with the outside of his foot to pick out Benzema who nearly scored another late on. He then scored another from distance as his dipping shot caught out Karius who had a nightmare to spoon it into his net. Bale than raced clear late on but a fine tackle from Dejan Lovren denied him a hat trick with Ronaldo wide open.

Bale has scored in one previous Champions League final (2013/14) and last season he came off the bench late on after recovering from injury to play a bit-part. On Saturday he stole the show.

And now all of the talk this summer will be about Bale and if he will remain at the Santiago Bernabeu or head to the Premier League.

If he does end his five-year stay in Madrid, Bale went out in style as he’s collected four Champions League winners medals and this will be the sweetest of the bunch.

Now, the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and even his old club Tottenham (they reportedly have first refusal if he returns to England) will start making calls to Bale’s agent.


SALAH’S INJURY, KARIUS HOWLERS HIT LIVERPOOL HARD

Mohamed Salah left the field in Kiev in tears in the first half and most of the soccer world was crying with him.

Salah (Liverpool’s leading goalscorer this season with 44 goals in all competitions) tangled with Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid’s captain locked his right arm in to the Egyptian forward who slammed into the pitch.

Take a look at the incident below as Salah’s World Cup dream with Egypt is in serious doubt.

Liverpool’s main man tried to carry on but as his adoring fans sung his chant which dominated the Premier League this season, the magician couldn’t carry on.

Salah’s absence made a huge difference and helped swing the game in Real Madrid’s favor with the Reds having just seven touches in Real’s half in the 14 first half minutes after Salah went off compared to 111 before that.

Obviously you cannot legislate for the kind of mistakes Karius made and Jurgen Klopp will have to answer questions about losing his sixth major final on the spin.

Karius may never get over the two huge mistakes he made but Liverpool did have chances as Mane hit the post as well as scoring, but losing Salah so early obviously had a huge impact on their chances.

Liverpool have had a stunning season in the Champions League and nobody thought they could get to the final. They’ve come up short but they can hold their head high and start to build for next season with a fully-fit Salah leading the way.


ZIDANE AND REAL ARE TRUE LEGENDS

Zidane looked like he had just popped down the shop for a newspaper and a pint of milk at the final whistle.

The legendary player is now a legendary manager as he led his star-studded team to a third-straight European title and got the big calls correct. He started Benzema ahead of Bale and unleashed the angry Welshman to pummel Liverpool’s defense in the latter stages. It worked a treat and this Real team will go down in history.

Zidane watched on with a smile on his face in the closing stages as his team turned on the style and in truth they could’ve won by five or six. Even though they struggled in La Liga this season, Real turned it on when it mattered time and time again in the Champions League.

Let’s take a look at the records Real have now extended as they are truly the Kings of Europe

  • Real Madrid have won a record 13 European titles
  • Real made their 16th appearance in a European Cup final, more than any other team in history
  • They are the first team since Bayern Munich (1974-1976) to win three-straight European titles
  • Zinedine Zidane is just the third manager to win the European Cup/Champions League three times (after Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti), but the first to win it in three consecutive seasons

Three things we learned: Man United v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Manchester United fought back from 1-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as Jose Mourinho reached yet another major cup final.

Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will have to cope with yet another season of heartache in cup competitions as their long wait for a trophy goes on. Dele Alli got them off to a perfect start but Alexis Sanchez’s fine header and a cool finish from Ander Herrera means United will play the winner of Chelsea versus Southampton in the other semifinal on Sunday.

Here’s what we learned from an enthralling encounter at Wembley.


ERRATIC POGBA DELIVERS

For the first 25 minutes Paul Pogba was all over the place, was caught out for the long ball down the left on Tottenham’s opener and he had every right to be concerned about getting the hook at half time. Then he turned on the style to drag the Red Devils back into the game.

Pogba’s topsy-turvy season continued after his Man of the Match display at Bournemouth in midweek, which came after Mourinho hooked him off early in the home defeat to West Brom and 10 days after his two goals at Manchester City in the stunning comeback win. Mix in with all of that Pep Guardiola‘s comments that Pogba was offered to Man City in January and more reports earlier this week that he will leave United this summer and the $130 million signing from Juventus in 2016 has had a turbulent few weeks to say the least.

Yet moments like the way he won the ball back from Mousa Dembele (never an easy task) then delivered a pinpoint cross for Sanchez to head home must be exactly why Mourinho is left infuriated by Pogba so often.

Pogba had an effort from distance in each half saved well by Vorm and after the goal it was as if a penny had dropped and he realized he could be the hero, his contribution could lead United one step closer to a piece of silverware this season. That not only meant he flourished in attack but he tracked back and started to do the dirty work.

Consistency is the main thing lacking with Pogba’s game and at the age of 25 and for his price tag, wages and reputation, he should be able to deliver week in, week out. That lack of focus and ability to do the dirty things like track runners and keep his possession is what will end up costing Pogba his United future under Mourinho.

Pogba showed with his surging run and assist at Bournemouth on Wednesday and then his fine cross for Sanchez that he has the ability to decide games on his own.

Now, if he’s given the chance to stay at United beyond this season, he must do it more often. His flashes of brilliance in recent weeks at least mean he has put himself in the shop window. The Mourinho v. Pogba battle will continue but the French midfielder had a positive impact as United reached the FA Cup Final for the second time in the last two seasons.


MOURINHO’S FAITH IN SANCHEZ REWARDED

Most of the talk leading up to this game was about how Alexis Sanchez was likely to be benched by Mourinho.

He wasn’t and, once again at Wembley, he made the difference. Sanchez scored a fine header to equalize which was his sixth goal in five FA Cup games at Wembley. He is a man for the big occasion and he delivered once again in the FA Cup.

There’s no doubt that Sanchez has got off to a slow start at United. He has given the ball away more than any of his teammates since he arrived in January and he has scored just two goals in the Premier League and was rested at Bournemouth last time out.

Sanchez still gave the ball away and still did some things which made you raise your eyebrows but he is battling through a tough spell to start life at United.

That was summed up by his role in United’s winner. The Chilean chased down a lost cause from Lukaku’s flick on and put Kieran Trippier under pressure to win the ball, then roll it cross for Herrera to eventually hammer home.

Sanchez rewarded Mourinho for keeping faith in him and there’s no doubt that once he becomes more comfortable at United over the summer then he will be back to his best in 2018/19.


SAME OLD STORY AS SPURS RUN OUT OF STEAM

Tottenham could have easily been 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes but they didn’t make the most of their fast start and they weren’t clinical enough with good chances wasted by Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen.

Spurs have now lost their last eight FA Cup semifinals on the trot (the longest run of semifinal defeats in club history) as their wait for a first trophy now spans over a decade.

Playing basically at home after spending the entire season at Wembley as their temporary home, Spurs’ fast start showed how comfortable they are becoming with the big occasions. Yet that initial hope faltered, just like it did in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg defeat against Juventus last month. You can’t say that Spurs “bottled” this but they lost all of their early momentum as soon as United were level.

Mauricio Pochettino said in the week that winning the FA Cup “wouldn’t change anything” for Spurs and their main focus is to win the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. That, of course, would be fantastic, but surely Pochettino can’t be that naive not to realize that winning a piece of silverware and getting that particular curse off of Spurs’ back would help his players…

Yes, Spurs have had a fine season, once again, and barring a late collapse they will finish in the top four for the third-straight campaign. That is their main aim each season. But at some point they have to start delivering on the big stage and no matter what you think of the FA Cup it is still one of the three major trophies dished out at the start of each domestic season in England.

And it is one of the three trophies Spurs haven’t won out of their last 30 attempts, dating back to the League Cup in 2008.

 

Three things we learned: Tottenham v Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City beat Tottenham 3-1 on Saturday to edge closer to the Premier League title.

A dominant display saw Pep Guardiola‘s men bounce back from three-straight defeats in style, with goals from Gabriel Jesus, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling doing the damage, as they will soon be crowned as the Champions of England.

Here’s what we learned from Wembley.


CITY ANSWER CRITICS: BUT CAN THEY BE MORE CLINICAL?

After the week they’ve had, Pep Guardiola’s men showed plenty of guts to dominate the first half and they deserved to lead by more than one goal at half time. Still, they got the job done and now thy could seal the title on Sunday if (a big ‘if’) Man United lose at home to West Brom.

With 87 points on the board and 93 goals scored, City have shredded opponents time and again and their performance under the Saturday night lights summed up their two previous outings. Wonderful first half displays where they could have been home and dry but then they unnecessarily got themselves in trouble.

Raheem Sterling scored once but could have had four on Saturday, and that was the case against Man United last weekend in the shock 3-2 defeat after leading 2-0.

It seems ridiculous to say that City could be more clinical as they’ve scored 130 goals in all competitions this season, but given the sheer amount, and quality, of chances they create each game, the fact they’ve scored just six times in their last four outings is low, very low, for City.

They’ve missed Sergio Aguero big time with the Argentine suffering from a knee injury and out of the squad altogether on Saturday, with the jury still out as to whether Jesus can replace him long-term. The Brazilian shanked an effort badly wide in the second half when clean through and Sterling delayed his shot after rounding Lloris and then having another effort blocked wide. City are an unstoppable attacking  unit and they moved one win closer to the title, but they could’ve easily won by five or six on Saturday.


DE BRUYNE SHOWS POTY CLASS

Kevin De Bruyne may well win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award this season (the votes for that award where collected a while back before Mohamed Salah went on his amazing goalscoring spree) and it will be richly deserved.

Amid Salah’s recent heroics, KDB’s brilliant season has become somewhat of an afterthought but the Belgian midfielder ran the show at Wembley, particularly in the second half, as he danced around tackles and responded well to crunching tackles from Eric Dier and Dele Alli in particular.

De Bruyne doesn’t have any weaknesses and his full repertoire was on show on Saturday with flicks, driving runs, and majestic passes. KDB has been consistently excellent and although he may lose some of the POTY awards to Salah, he’s been at a higher level all season long and delivered once again against one of the big boys.

It is a joy to watch KDB in full flow.


LLORIS BECOMING A LIABILITY

Hugo Lloris has made big mistakes in each of his last three Premier League games. The apocalypse is nigh.

So often a bastion of reliability, Lloris is having perhaps the worst spell of his Tottenham career since he joined in 2012 from Lyon. The Spurs and French national team captain is not playing well but it shouldn’t cost Spurs their top four spot as they still have a seven point cushion over Chelsea with five games to go.

But this really isn’t a new thing. Before this game Hugo Lloris had made 5 defensive errors which led to goals, with only Petr Cech having more (6) in the PL. Yet when you think about it, which goalkeepers in the PL are better than Lloris? David De Gea, Ederson and Thibaut Courtois, and that’s about it. This seems to be nothing more than a small blip in form for the Frenchman but the variety of his mistakes (flapping at a cross to let Morata score for Chelsea, hitting the ball off Diouf against Stoke and then lunging into a tackle to give away a penalty) will be concerning.

Lloris, 31, is entering his prime as a goalkeeper and the quintessential sweeper keeper is always eager to launch himself off his line whenever he can, as he did earlier in the first half to great effect. It is too harsh to call Lloris a liability but with mistakes in each of his last three games you can feel Tottenham’s fans not being as confident as they once were as he let in Sterling in the second half, flapped a bit to let in Sterling for City’s third and was too close to call on some of his passes.