It’s the World Cup final. A game that needs the speed of a sprinter, the agility of a hurdles’ racer, the flexibility of a gymnast and the sharpness of a shooter. Ask Cristiano Ronaldo.
The game will see two sides – one of them a perpetual dominatrix, while the other punching above their weight. Croatia have been antithetical to all logic, defeating heavyweights like England and Argentina en route to the showdown. When the curtains fall on Sunday evening, every bet will go out the window, every eye will be glued to the spectacle and every move will be cheered or jeered.
Will the Eiffel Tower light up with an extra sheen on Sunday night? Or will the Dubrovnik be ebullient, filled with a sense of pride and victory for the first time in their small history of 27 years?
Croatia start as the underdogs, having won no games in five attempts against Les Bleus. France, on the other hand, emerged as winners on three, with the rest ending in draws.
Enduringly, the last three FIFA World Cup finals have all gone to extra-time, but Andres Iniesta and Mario Gotze ensured to keep the penalties away at the last two editions.
Croatia have reached the World Cup final for the first time in their history and will be buoyed by the fact that two recent first-time finalists, France in 1998 and Spain in 2010, raised the Cup on the podium. Both sides, though, had better squads, at least, on paper. Croatia, instead, possess a steely resolve, a calm captain and warriors that go to battle every time they walk out on the pitch.
France, on the other hand, are pre-tournament favourites who wouldn’t shock the world if they lift the coveted prize. They have not done it since 1998 and look ruthless on the break under the guidance of Didier Deschamps. The manager has smartly marshalled his troops, knowing well the benefits of youth, dynamism and speed on the pitch.
Hugo Lloris is backed by 50% odds to lift the trophy at the final whistle, while Luka Modric stands at 21%. Will it be a case of textbook dominance, or will Croatia ride their discipline and resilience to the trophy?
About the Teams
If oiling and grilling football teams to win were judged, both Zlatko Dalic and Deschamps would get full marks. The playing style, though, is different. Deschamps has ensured solidity at the back, but his full-backs have the license to move forward, additionally screened by the all-horizontal presence of N’Golo Kante.
The French attack, in one word, is fluid. Brimming with the pace of Kylian Mbappe, the positioning and ilk of Antoine Griezmann and the polar presence of Olivier Giroud, the 1998 winners have Paul Pogba to pluck threads behind this trio. Blaise Matuidi fills the midfield and the troika already looks impregnable.
At the back, Lloris has been bravely defended by Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, who seem to have kept their club rivalries to one side for national good and how! Both youngsters are highly-rated and have proven in Russia that there’s no smoke without fire.
On the other hand, Croatia lack technicality at the back, but have in their ranks a smart goalkeeper. Danijel Subašić is already being touted as the Goalkeeper of the Tournament and there’s more reason that rumour to this. The vigorous pair of Dejan Lovren-Domagoj Vida also mans Croatia’s goal in front of him.
The midfield has been riding the Croats throughout the tournament, arguably so. Featuring Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Rakitic and captain Luka Modric, this midfield has won everything that’s out there to be won at club level and certainly knows how success feels.
Add to that, a few mavericks of the wily Mario Mandzukic and the notebook faints of Ivan Perisic and you have a side that can match the best. They have done that already and they certainly can do it again.
The match will be played at the Luzhniki Stadium, the national stadium of Russia. It can seat 81,000 fans.
Croatia: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Brozovic, Rakitic, Modric, Perisic, Kramaric, Mandzukic.
What to Expect?
France are expected to attack with identical clinical gameplay and Croatia will do well to go into the second half tied or in front. That is not expected, though. Croatia will sit back, soak pressure and hit on the odd chance. Expect them to score once, but France could score multiple times.
Khel Now Predicts
France 3-1 Croatia