#WorldCup Preview: Who will be crowned Champions as France battle Croatia in mouthwatering final?

Final

The match we have all being waiting for is nigh and by the end of today the World Champions will be crowned. The talented Les Blues will face the experienced Croats in an all European final – the first since 2010. France lit up the knockout stages and looked to have peaked at the right stage for the tournament, while Croatia have battled and struggled to make the finals with series of extra-time/penalty extended games. France are favourites to go all the way but Croatia cannot be ruled out.

France have a very talented team that can overrun any opponent. Kylian Mbappe has been a revelation and one of the standout performers for Les Blues. His pace and electric ability has caused nightmares for opposition defenders, plus he has the maturity in his game that many young players do not have. He is supported in attack by the excellent Antoine Greizmann – many people believe he has not had a great tournament but I beg to differ. Greizmann’s ability to make the right decisions at the right moment sets him apart as one of the best forwards in the World Cup.

In midfield, Ngolo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba have been imperious and have bossed all their games. I personally feel Kante has a great shout for the Golden Ball – my editor along with many people might disagree – but we shall see. Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti are the leaders at the back and if they defend the way they defended against Belgium, Croatia might find it impossible to create opportunities.

Croatia, on the other hand, are an experienced bunch. Their story is a very improbable one, Zlatko Dalic, Croatia’s coach was coaching in the UAE till 2017 when he was appointed to lead a troubled Croatian camp to World Cup qualification. It has been a wonderful story how Dalic has showed tactical panache to lead his country to their first ever World Cup finals. He has not done it alone; he has a bunch of talented players like Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic, and Ante Rebic.

But Luka Modric is the standout player in the squad, and Croatia generally goes where Luka goes. Luka Modric is possibly the best midfielder in the world right now. His ability to dictate tempo and control the midfield reminds me of the great Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona – Luka Modric is of that ilk – no doubt.

However, it will take a lot for this Croatian team to overcome mighty France. Usually, in football, players with the better quality always come out on top, but anything can happen in football.

I believe France just have enough to see out Croatia. I feel this will be a high scoring final and I go for a 2-1 France win. I don’t believe Croatia can win this game in open play and it will require extra-time plus penalties for Croatia to win the World Cup. But I want a new World Cup Champion too – who knows? Drop your predictions below.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • France are unbeaten in their five previous games with Croatia, winning three times. They have met twice before at major tournaments.
  • The French came from a goal down to beat Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup thanks to an unlikely brace from defender Lilian Thuram. Those proved to be Thuram’s only goals in his 142 caps.
  • The teams also drew 2-2 in the group stage at Euro 2004.
  • The only meeting since then was a goalless draw in a friendly at the Stade de France in March 2011.

France

  • The French are the sixth nation to reach three or more World Cup finals, following in the footsteps of Germany (eight), Brazil and Italy (both six), Argentina (five) and the Netherlands (three).
  • This will be France’s sixth final at a major tournament (including three at the European Championship). They have won three of the previous five.
  • Three of France’s four goals in World Cup finals have come from set-pieces (two from corners, one from a penalty).
  • Three of France’s five goalscorers at this World Cup have been defenders (Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti).
  • The last time three French defenders scored at a World Cup was in 1998, when they lifted the trophy.
  • Excluding shootouts, France have lost just one of their last 14 knockout games at the World Cup (W11, D2). That defeat was their 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 quarter-finals.
  • Didier Deschamps is looking to become the third man to win the World Cup as a player and as head coach, after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer. He’s won 73% of his games at the World Cup (eight out of 11).
  • France have trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds at this World Cup, while Croatia have been behind in all three of their knockout matches.
  • None of Olivier Giroud’s 13 shots at this World Cup have been on target. Since 1966, no player has had more attempts at a World Cup without directing at least one on target.
  • Kylian Mbappe could become only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final, after Pele. His tally of three goals already makes him the highest scoring teen since Pele netted six in 1958.
  • Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted 11 goals in nine knockout games at major tournaments (World Cup and European Championship). That is more than any other French player in the last 50 years, ahead of Zinedine Zidane (eight) and Michel Platini (six).

Croatia

  • Croatia are the 13th different nation to reach a World Cup final.
  • The previous two first-time finalists both won the tournament (France in 1998 and Spain in 2010).
  • Croatia are the first team to have reached the World Cup final despite trailing in all three of their knockout games.
  • The Croats have played extra time in their last three matches and could become the first team in World Cup history to play extra time in four matches at a single tournament.
  • Croatia have scored 12 goals and have had eight different goalscorers (excluding own goals) – only Belgium boast higher figures (16 goals and ten goalscorers).
  • They have scored in their last 10 World Cup games, since a 0-0 draw with Japan in 2006.
  • Four of the five goals Croatia have conceded in Russia have come from set-pieces. They’ve conceded from a penalty, a throw-in, an indirect free-kick and a direct free-kick.
  • Croatia have conceded more fouls (99) and received more yellow cards (14) than any other side at this World Cup.
  • Ivan Perisic has been involved in 10 goals at major tournaments (six goals and four assists), the joint-most by a Croat, level with Davor Suker (nine goals and one assist).
  • Luka Modric has created 16 chances at this World Cup, twice as many as any of his team-mates.

 SOURCE: BBC SPORT

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