32 days, 32 teams, 64 matches and it all comes down to this. France and Croatia will compete for glory in the 21st edition of the World Cup, to be held in Moscow on Sunday afternoon.
France entered the tournament as one of the favourites and although their performances have been slow and steady for the most part, they find themselves undefeated and unscathed heading into their second major final in the space of two years. While they were unable to find a winner against Portugal in 2016, they are a huge chance of bringing home the biggest cup in world sport.
The French boast a squad which is the envy of most teams at the event, so it is no surprise to see them in the final. They certainly had a challenging run to the final, needing wins against South American heavyweights Argentina and Uruguay before coming up against neighbours Belgium in the semi-finals. Their defensive performance in the last match was outstanding, and Croatia will need to be at their best to break the French down.
Croatia are often described as a ‘perennial dark-horse’ and they have lived up to this tag in 2018. In what must be considered a tricky group alongside the likes of Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria, the Croatians recorded three victories, none better than the 3-0 rout of Lionel Messi’s men. Topping the group also meant they avoided France in the Round of 16, which was crucial to their run.
In essence, Croatia’s run to the final should have been smooth sailing, although they were taken to successive penalty shootouts by Denmark and Russia respectively. It’s true that there are no easy matches at the World Cup, although one must have surely doubted Croatia’s staying power after they struggled to defeat weaker teams.
Yet as we’ve seen, Croatia step up against the bigger nations. England were flying and looked to be the favourite to clinch a place in the final at their expense when Kieran Trippier scored early in Wednesday’s match. The rest is history. Mario Mandzukic popped up at the right moment to steal victory in extra time, and the Croatians will contest their first ever World Cup final.
Croatia and France have come up against each other on five occasions, although Croatia are yet to taste victory. The most famous matchup was of course the 1998 FIFA World Cup semi-final where the French managed a come-from-behind win to deny the Croatians a historic appearance in the final. Despite Croatia’s tendency to lift for the big games, it’s hard to bet against the French winning once again.
France enter the match as the favourite, starting at -112. Croatia are outsiders at +291, while the draw is similarly priced, offering +261. Neither side have reported major injury concerns, despite all the reports that Croatia’s defenders and goalkeeper were all in doubt prior to their semi-final clash. France do have the advantage of an additional day of rest, which may come in handy, and they are yet to play extra time.
It’s bound to be a grind of a match. Croatia have only scored once in regulation time in all three knockout matches, while France have recorded two straight clean sheets. The under +2.5 goal market is certain to be the favourite here.
We’re tipping France to lift the World Cup trophy for a second time, and based on the predicted style of play from both teams a 1-0 victory is probably going to be enough. If Croatia can score early it will really bring the game to life, although we’re not sure they can manage it against the French defence.