The 2018 World Cup in Russia will be concluded on Sunday with France targeting their second trophy against a Croatia outfit competing in their first ever final.
2018 World Cup
Date: 15 July 2018
Kick-off: 17H00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Stadion Luzhniki
Referee: N. Pitana
Assistants: H. Maidana, J. Belatti
France 0-0 Croatia 29/03/11 (Friendly)
Players to watch:
France have an abundance of technically gifted players, but Kylian Mbappe remains one of their greatest weapons. The Paris Saint-Germain star has shown glimpses of greatness and has bagged three goals in six games thus far.
Croatia have been relying on their world-class midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic throughout the tournament and will be hoping the experienced campaigners can fire when it matters most. Striker Mario Mandzukic is also an awkward forward to defend against and could cause problems with his aerial prowess while Ivan Perisic was a threat throughout as Croatia saw off England.
Team form and manager quotes:
France, the 1998 World Cup champions, finished top of Group C by beating Australia and Peru before a goalless draw with Denmark to clinch the number one spot.
Their most challenging game of the tournament thus far was arguably the 4-3 win over South American giants Argentina in the last 16. Les Bleus were level at 2-2 with the Albiceleste, but a clutch brace from Kylian Mbappe saw them secure the win before a consolation strike from Sergio Aguero.
Didier Deschamps’ charges were touted as one of the favourites to win the tournament and have up to now met those expectations, albeit not always in convincing fashion. With one of the most talented squads at the tournament, France will be odds on favourites to claim a second World Cup title 20 years after their manager lifted the trophy on home soil.
“You have to live with your times,” Deschamps told the press. “I never ever, ever mention my own history. They know it. Some of them were not born but they have seen pictures. That’s it. It belongs to a lot of French people who lived through it.
“The story is different now. I can’t make comparisons, I can’t talk to them about players from 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. I am here with them to write a new page in history, a most beautiful page.”
Meanwhile, Croatia will be hoping they can continue pulling off upsets at the global showpiece and secure what would be a historic maiden World Cup title for their country.
Luka Modric and company also topped their group by beating Nigeria, Argentina, and Iceland. However, the knockout stages have put Croatia through the wringer. They needed penalties to beat Denmark and hosts Russia before edging out England 2-1 with an extra-time winner from Mario Mandzukic.
The Croatians may not have the raw talent of France but have shown that they have the determination, work rate, and composure to perhaps cause a final upset.
Reflecting on the semi-final win over England, Croatia manager Zlatko Dalic told the press: “This is fantastic. Two players played with half a leg, but it didn’t show. In extra-time nobody wanted to be substituted. This shows character and is what makes me proud. Nobody gave up.
“We prepared to get to the final and we want to play it. Going to extra-time might be a problem along with the fact France have had an extra day to recover but there will be no excuses. We have to play as if this were the first game in this tournament.”
France are likely to field an unchanged starting XI, with Blaise Matuidi expected to be fit despite going off injured against Belgium.
Croatia should be able to start with Ivan Strinic and Mario Mandzukic despite both going off with injuries against England.