Croatia will be looking to lift the FIFA World Cup for the first time when they take on powerhouse France in Moscow on Monday morning.
After 63 matches, the World Cup final is here, and it is hardly one anyone would have expected. Croatia have been one of the teams of the tournament, showing immense strength and willingness to continue playing after making their way through three periods of extra time in the knockout stages, with Zlatko Dalić’s side having played the equivalent of one whole extra match compared to their French opponents.
Despite topping their group containing Iceland, Argentina, and Nigeria, Vatreni have had it tough in the knockout stages, needing penalties to get past Denmark and Russia before downing England 2-1 in the semi-final thanks to a 109th minute Mario Mandžukić goal. Croatia have never made an international final of any sort, and this stage will be new to the small European nation as they seek to create history with their second ‘Golden Generation’.
But France will be no pushover, with the side making their second World Cup final since their historic 1998 win on home soil. Les Bleus struggled to find their form at the start of the competition, advancing from a group containing Australia, Denmark, and Peru, but a 4-3 win against Argentina saw the French wheels begin to turn, and a 2-0 win over Uruguay, followed by a 1-0 triumph over Belgium in the semi-final booked their spot on the grandest stage of all.
Didier Deschamps’ side has slowly been warming up to this competition and we have only seen brief periods of what this French side can do when they are on top form, but if they want to claim their second World Cup then Les Bleus will need to hit the ground running, especially against a Croatian side that will never give up.
Key Battle – N’Golo Kante vs Luka Modrić
This could very well be a World Cup that is decided in the midfield, and Les Bleus could be counting on a great performance from N’Golo Kanté to lead them to their second World Cup. Kanté has been in top form this competition – being a key piece of the French engine by covering 62.7 kilometers and completing 317 passes to date, becoming one of the reasons why France can develop their defensive movements into attacking ones so fluidly.
It has been a great performance from the former Leicester man, who just four years earlier was plying his trade at newly-promoted Caen and a similar showing in the final would be the cherry on top of a great campaign from Kanté and France.
However, Deschamps’ is not the only side without a Kante-like player of their own, and for Croatia, that role is filled by none other than their very own captain in Luka Modrić. Modrić has been immense this World Cup, refusing to tire or slow down, picking up a couple of goals and completing just under 370 passes in the process, all the while covering 63 kilometers as Croatia labored to their first World Cup final.
A win for Modrić would cap off a fantastic performance by the Real Madrid star and put a fitting end to Croatia’s second ‘Golden Generation’. However, he will need to fight through the exhaustion to put in another top-drawer performance in the final.
Both teams will have no injury or suspension worries for the final, with the only player missing from either squad being Croatia’s Nikola Kalinić, who was sent home after the opening match of the competition for refusing to come on as a substitute against Nigeria.
France expected XI: Lloris (GK); Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernández, Pogba, Kanté, Mbappé, Matuidi, Griezmann, Giroud
Croatia expected XI: Subašić (GK); Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinić, Brozović, Rebić, Modrić, Rakitić, Perišić, Mandžukić
Croatia has never beaten France in the short history between the two sides, with France winning three of the five matches played so far, including a 2-1 win in the 1998 semi-final, where a brace from defender Lilian Thuram would shoot Les Bleus into their first World Cup final at the expense of Croatia, something Vatreni will surely be looking to avenge when they face on Monday.
Both sides last faced each other in a March 2011 friendly in Paris where neither side was able to claim a win, holding each other to a 0-0 draw.
With so much to play for in the biggest game of them all, neither could be claimed to be the favorite heading into Monday’s clash. While France have shown in brief flashes that they can be better than anyone else in the world, they still have not done it consistently and that could be enough for Croatia to strike on. But Vatreni will be facing a challenge of their own, with their players absolutely exhausted by the long slog to the final. However, with a World Cup on the line, they could push just long enough to claim an historic win.
France 0 Croatia 1