Two con­trast­ing styles duel for the Golden Ball

Mas­ter crafts­man Mo­dric and speed king Mbappe go head-to-head in fi­nal

Sport360 - - World Cup 2018 - Matthew Jones @Mat­tJones360 mat­tjones@sport360.com

Al­though the World Cup tro­phy is the ul­ti­mate prize in Sunday’s show­down between France and Croatia, there are two play­ers on op­pos­ing sides who will be bat­tling to get their hands on an­other, in­di­vid­ual ac­co­lade.

Kylian Mbappe and Luka Mo­dric are the fron­trun­ners for the Golden Ball, with the duo cen­tral to why their re­spec­tive teams fea­ture at Moscow’s Luzh­niki Sta­dium.

Zine­dine Zi­dane – the 2006 re­cip­i­ent de­spite his tour­na­ment end­ing in dis­grace when he was sent off for a head­butt on Italy’s Marco Mat­er­azzi in the fi­nal – may well not be too far from the thoughts of ei­ther player this week­end.

Zi­dane is the only French­man to win it and also played a piv­otal role as a maiden World Cup tro­phy was lifted by Les Bleus on home soil 20 years ago, which will surely spur Mbappe on to con­tinue cast­ing his be­witch­ing bril­liance over the tour­na­ment.

The teenager em­bod­ies foot­ball’s new breed, one that may fi­nally be set to bring Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Lionel Messi’s du­op­oly on the global game to an end in 2018 and be­yond.

How­ever, while the early ex­its from World Cup 2018 of Ar­gentina and Por­tu­gal may sig­nal a chang­ing of the old guard and have paved the way to glory for Mbappe and France, there re­mains a small yet mighty ob­sta­cle in the Paris Saint-Ger­main striker’s path to­wards claim­ing the Golden Ball – Croatia’s cre­ator in chief.

The 32-year-old Mo­dric has con­jured some colos­sal per­for­mances in help­ing his na­tion into a first World Cup fi­nal in their fledg­ling his­tory, prod­ding and prob­ing de­fences to death as the un­fan­cied Va­treni (the Blaz­ers) fight for the chance to see how World Cup gold fits them this Sunday.

You can­not help but mar­vel at main­stays Ron­aldo and Messi, who have been mag­nif­i­cent for the game. They have shared the last 10 Bal­lons d’Or between them – win­ning five apiece.

While it must be ac­cepted, their dom­i­nance has also been some­what mo­not­o­nous as no other player has been able to shine in their con­sid­er­able shad­ows.

But with the two heavy­weights now watch­ing from afar, Mbappe and Mo­dric have made the stage their own. And the race between them is a close one. Both have be­daz­zled. Mbappe is still just about in with a shout of sur­pass­ing Harry Kane as top scorer – though he’ll need to score a hat-trick in the fi­nal and hope the Three Lions striker doesn’t roar against Bel­gium in Satur­day’s third-place play-off. His three goals have come cour­tesy of only six shots, only one of which failed to find the tar­get. Strike part­ner An­toine Griez­mann also has three goals but has rained 20 shots down on goal. His 4.7 av­er­age drib­bles per game leads France as does his 46 to­tal drib­bles, stag­ger­ingly 36 more than any other French player, with 28 suc­cess­ful. Against Bel­gium he de­liv­ered six key passes, three more than any­one else. And his blis­ter­ing pace has caused no end of con­cern for de­fences, with Mbappe reg­u­larly glid­ing by de­fend­ers. Mo­dric, mean­while, has ma­nip­u­lated op­po­nents as cun­ning and coura­geous Croatia have both blown away and bro­ken down op­po­nents – all three of their knock­out stage en­coun­ters go­ing to ex­tra-time. Eng­land started brightly in Wed­nes­day’s semi-fi­nal, but af­ter fail­ing to build on their one-goal lead, Mo­dric was al­lowed to ex­ert his ex­cel­lence on the game af­ter the in­ter­val.

At 63km, he has cov­ered more dis­tance than any player at this World Cup. He has also played 604 min­utes, which is 49 more than any­one else. Un­sur­pris­ingly his 2.7 av­er­age key passes per game leads Croatia.

Mbappe’s bril­liance is a clear in­di­ca­tor that sweep­ing change is im­mi­nent. Eden Haz­ard, Kevin De Bruyne, Griez­mann (all 27), Ney­mar (26), Paul Pogba (25) and Harry Kane (24) have all sim­mered at some point in the Rus­sian sun.

Of Mbappe’s gen­er­a­tion, mean­while, he has an able sup­port cast in emerg­ing tal­ents Hirv­ing Lozano (22), Ous­mane Dem­bele, Gabriel Je­sus ( both 21) and Mar­cus Rash­ford (20), all of whom may threaten fu­ture Bal­lon d’Or bal­lots.

But with the younger gen­er­a­tion on the brink of tak­ing over, it has been re­fresh­ing to see Mo­dric’s mag­nif­i­cence come to the fore.

The Croatia of 2018 are al­ready assured of out­shin­ing the coun­try’s golden gen­er­a­tion of 20 years ago, which fea­tured such silky play­ers as Da­vor Suker, Robert Prosi­necki and Zvon­imir Boban. Mo­dric is the mas­ter tai­lor of this gen­er­a­tion and if he can stitch to­gether his side on Sunday, it will be his great­est work.

In­deed if ei­ther can sprin­kle their golden touch on the fi­nal, they may just be tak­ing two tro­phies home with them.

Pace ace: Kylian Mbappe’s be­witch­ing tech­ni­cal bril­liance and quick­ness will be one of the true joys of Sunday’s World Cup fi­nal.

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