This Sunday, the biggest showdown will take place at the Luzhniki Stadium as France and Croatia battle it out in the final of the FIFA World Cup. In a World Cup full of surprises and upsets, just two giants remain. The winners of ’98 come up against the Croats, who they beat in the semi-finals of their triumph that year, but this time it will not be so easy as Les Bleus will not have the advantage of being the host nation. It’s been a fantastic story for both countries to get through to the finals, but the journey doesn’t end here, there’s still one more game of football to be played, which promises to be a scorcher! Let’s get straight in to it, then.
To win (90mins)
We always expected greatness from this France team heading into the World Cup. They showed great fight and spirit in the 2016 Euro’s, where they were denied in the final. Kylian Mbappe was just a little boy at the time, being just 17 years of age.
He’s still considered a boy by many, but Mbappe has improved immensely and has taken the FIFA World Cup by storm. There’s a maturity to his play now, and to show such composure against some of the best defenders in world football, especially at his age, shows that he is a top, top talent.
He’s been, by far, France’s best player at this year’s tournament, and that should speak volumes, especially with the stellar campaigns that Hugo Lloris and Benjamin Pavard have had. Despite the brilliance of the above-mentioned trio in Russia, Antoine Griezmann has shown that he can always pop up with something special when his country need him most.
Despite going under the radar at the World Cup, the Atletico Madrid forward is France’s joint-top scorer with Mbappe on three goals – but it’s his all-round play that makes him so great.
It would be quite fair to say that France haven’t really been troubled at this year’s showpiece. Although the scorelines suggest otherwise in their fixtures played, the French have almost-cruised into the finals, still, they have shown respect to every opponent, and that has put them where they are today.
If France were to win the World Cup, they would be deserved winners. They’ve never been second best, and they know what it takes to get over the finish line.
It’s been a remarkable tale for Croatia at this year’s World Cup. They’ve silenced all doubters and have booked their spot in the final through hard work and determination. It will be a true test of their character to see if they don’t let their demons of ’98 catch up with them, when they lost in France against the same opposition by a 2-1 scoreline.
Also, it will be a chance for this generation to go one better than their legends of 20 years ago. One of the greatest Croatians to ever kick a football, Davor Suker, has high hopes of this team and even expects Luka Modric to claim the tournament’s best individual accolade, the Golden Ball award.
“I would give Luka three votes if I could,” Suker was quoted saying this week. But the Real Madrid playmaker hasn’t done it on his own. His midfield partner, Ivan Rakitic, has been superb, and together, the duo have been impeccable.
As brilliant as they’ve been, it’s been what we’ve expected from a world class duo. They’ve bossed the game for their nation, inspired attacks, kept their shape in defence, and above all, never dropped their heads when their team has went down in a game.
Modric is likely to steal the headlines and stand out above the rest, but there have been some great players to make their name for Croatia and stamp their authority at the 2018 showpiece. Sime Vrsaljko and Ante Rebic stood out against England in the semi-final, so too Ivan Perisic, and of course, the hero on the day, Mario Mandzukic.
They’ve been exceptional as a unit, and despite going the distance to extra-time for three games in a row now, Modric has rubbished talk of fatigue.
“We showed again we were not tired,” the Croatian playmaker told ITV.
“All these words from them [English media] we take, we were reading and we were saying, ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired’,” he concluded.
Croatia have been fun to watch, and they have proven that they will be no pushovers in Moscow this Sunday.
Lloris; Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez; Pogba, Kante; Mbappe, Griezmann Matuidi; Giroud.
Subasic; Vrsaljko, Vida, Lovren, Strinic; Rakitic, Modric; Rebic, Brozovic, Perisic; Mandzukic.
Prediction: Draw (21/10)
Both teams have had brilliant World Cup campaigns, and it would be tough to separate them in 90 minutes. I do think France have enough quality to emerge victorious in extra-time, but for betting purposes, the draw seems likely at 21/10. The French are priced up at 9/20 to lift the cup, something you would also want to look at. For the brave, get on Croatia to send their opponents into extra-time, like they have done in the past three matches. Also, bare in mind that the last three FIFA World Cup finals have gone the distance.
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