By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Football Writer
In a rematch of the 2018 World Cup Finals, Croatia to beat France Monday for the first time in their history, with Luka Modric scoring the only goal the visitors needed from the penalty spot in the first half.
The historic victory struck Blues out of contention for the 2022-23 UEFA Nations League title just eight months after winning the previous edition of the tournament.
Here are three quick thoughts after Monday’s game at the Stade de France.
The loss caps the terrible month of June for Blues
The warning signs were there for France from their first match of the competition, a 2-1 loss to Denmark which, like Monday’s surprise, came at home.
A respectable but still somewhat surprising draw with that same Croatian side on June 6 in Split – Monday’s game marked the fourth meeting between these countries since France’s 2018 triumph – was followed by a poor performance in the week last in Austria. Only a brilliant appearance off the bench from Kylian Mbappe was enough to salvage a draw.
Mbappe started this one but couldn’t save his team again. While the star-studded hosts ran the show for long stretches – particularly in the second half, when they sought the equalizer to nullify Modrić’s goal – they were plagued with the same lack of sharpness and cohesion as during of their first three games in June. Of their 17 shots on Monday, only four were on target.
Nobody doubts the talent of France. This list is arguably deeper and more experienced than the one that won the sport’s biggest prize four years ago. But they’re not a better team and they certainly can’t trust their resumes.
“It’s not our status as world champions,” French coach Didier Deschamps said after the game, “that will win us games.”
Highlights of France vs Croatia
Check out the action from the UEFA Nations League game between France and Croatia in Saint-Denis. The win marked Croatia’s first victory over France.
Modrić helps Croatia to historic victory
Even before 2018, France and Croatia had a checkered history, although the latter has only existed in its current state since 1990. Blues also came through the Croatians the other time they won the World Cup, in the semi-finals in 1998. It was the first of nine previous meetings between the teams, all of which ended either tied or with France as winner.
It would be wrong to think the visitors were lucky in Game 10. France’s furious late push may have skewed the stats in their favor but it was a masterclass from Croatia . Their victory was well deserved.
“After the World Cup, we definitely had a complex against France,” coach Zlatko Dalić later admitted. “Winning against the world champions at home is extraordinary.”
It wouldn’t have happened without Modrić. It wasn’t just his successful kick; At 36 and with 152 international matches to his credit, the enduring maestro continues to prove that he remains among the world’s elite midfielders. The former Ballon d’Or winner, who won his fifth UEFA Champions League title with Real Madrid last month, had a clinic on Monday.
Not only did Modrić always make the right pass, but his ability to be available as an outlet whenever his teammates were under pressure frustrated the hosts, who were desperate to win the ball back. He is also a defensive workhorse, despite his reputation as a world offensive player.
For an athlete his age, who has won just about everything, achieving something for the first time is always special. Of course, that’s not the same as erasing that World Cup defeat four years ago. But in what could well be his last career game against France, it’s fitting that Modrić walks away with the winner.
Can France defend their World Cup title?
Whereas Blues’ The Nations League title defense is over, the World Cup in November is the most pressing issue. France have just two games in September – at home to Austria and in Denmark – before traveling to Qatar.
These matches suddenly loom large as the players begin their summer break. Deschamps and his team must quickly correct anything that is wrong or risk extending their record of futility in World Cups played four years after reaching a final.
After winning their first World Cup in 1998, Blues famous didn’t score a goal in 2002. They also went out in the first round in 2010 after losing the final to Italy on penalties four years before.
“There is no need to worry,” insisted midfielder Aurélien Tchouameni after Monday’s clash. “We will all be better in the next international window.”
With a team of France’s pedigree, it would be hard to do much worse.
One of North America’s leading football journalists, Doug McIntyre has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at several FIFA World Cups. Prior to joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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