Kante and Rakitic will punch and counter in deciding the outcome of the World Cup final

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‘The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armour. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time’ – Frank Miller.

Football is sporting noir – dark arts, morality debates and such – and the defensive midfielder it’s hero, armour devoid of blood of course as is required by FIFA. And in the World Cup final, France and Croatia have N’Golo Kante and Ivan Rakitic, respectively, wearing the anonymity of their positions.

But it’s not just the finalists who have advertised the position. Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira, all of 5-foot-6, battled the physical specimen that is Cristiano Ronaldo in what was probably the most underrated performance of the tournament.

When Roberto Martinez started Alex Witsel and Marouane Fellaini (the two giants outdone quietly by Kante, also 5’6”) as Belgium played France, Radja Nainggolan must have felt the pain more than anyone. His battle prowess, a combination of wit and will, could

have been what was needed. It’ll be a key battle in the final as well. For France, Paul Pogba has started to show just why fans put up with the changing hairstyles. Croatia’s Luka Modric has at the age of 32 found an adoring global audience with people asking the question ‘is he the best in the world?’.

Neither though will deny that not having to look over their shoulders is why they have been so effective because they know and trust their midfield partners to sweep into space or snuff a counter that will happen more often than not.

Kante covered 27.4kms when his team was not in possession as compared with the 20.1kms covered by Pogba. The figures are 23.6kms and 17.3kms when France had the ball. He’s doing for France what he did for Leicester City, except all of that work is now in the shadow of an excellent attacking unit.

Rakitic and Modric are less symbiotic, both capable of doing the other’s job. The latter though is the designated attacking midfielder. Consequently Rakitic has covered 24.5kms to Modric’s 22.7kms when not in possession of the ball, while the latter has covered 25.4kms when in possession.

Kante and Rakitic are as different as they are similar. Both understand space, or specifically when to move into an area that might otherwise be a point from which to launch an attack.

Kante’s movement is often restricted – never too far from the centre line and almost never in either of the boxes. He’s just as important while defending a set-piece or corner, but not inside the box. He might not be known for it, but an attack can begin with him.

Rakitic is similar in movement, but concentrates on the left side. He’s happy to advance on the attack but is almost never in his own box as a Croatian counter starts with the Barcelona player.

Both also understand the need to keep the ball moving, rarely taking a second touch and almost never going on a dribble. The more defensive Kante has a 90 percent pass success rate while Rakitic is at 85 percent while both attempting a similar number of passes (just over 350).

They’re different because of their build. Kante is short, but fast -both with his feet and his mind – and therefore not required to put in the tackle while Rakitic is stronger, using his body and touch to keep the ball.

Despite the amount of work they do, neither have been subbed off in the knockout games. The Frenchman has played every minute of the tournament while Rakitic took a breather in the third group game only to play a full extra 90 minutes as all three of their knockout games have gone to extra time.

And that could be what decides the World Cup. William Butler Yeats wrote, meant less literally though, ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’ That centre is Kante and Rakitic, and hold they must.

Source: Economic Times