FIFA World Cup Final - Preview
The World Cup finale has finally arrived, after a month of non-stop action, the moment has come to crown a champion on the International stage. France and Croatia have taken very different path's in order to arrive at this stage of events, now the world will witness the pinnacle of this massive moment.
European nations have once again ruled the FIFA landscape, claiming victories over the past twelve years, now another European country will leave Russia as World Cup champions. The Continent continues to provide us with many of the best players in the world, and a total dominance while on the pitch.
62001 France vs 62002 Croatia
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia
7-15-2018 - 11:00 am ET
The capital city will get the honor of hosting the largest soccer match in the world, with Luzhniki Stadium being updated for this special occasion, the Russians are set to send this fixture out with a spectacular bang.
France enter Sunday's contest having surprised many with their current status in the Finals match, after the belief was they were still four years away from reaching their ultimate potential, Les Bleus have rose too the challenge, and are prime to grab their second World Cup title in the last 20 years.
French head-man Didier Deschamps continues to be spotlighted for his fantastic job done up until this point in the proceedings, but many forget he took the bulk of these same players to the Euro's 2016 finals only two summers ago, now with the right amount of experience and youthful enthusiasm, he is on the verge of making International history.
The inclusion of Kylian Mbappé within the national team cannot be understated, the PSG phenom has made all the difference in getting this proud nation of the proverbial hump, armed with explosive pace and a skillful array of dribbling, passing and finishing skills to his overall arsenal. Mbappé will certainly make life difficult on the Croatian defenders, after three straight extra time matches, their legs are sure to get weary by the end of 90 minutes, especially with this rare thoroughbred continuing to run at them on a dynamic basis.
The French midfield has continued too overwhelm their opponents, with a mix of world class play-makers and self-less defenders, they have figured how to perfectly blend this mix of talents with valuable returns.
Antoine Griezmann and Blaise Matuidi offer a dangerous partnership with Mbappé moving forward in attack, while Paul Pogba is the key creator and has shown his true qualities as the tournament has progressed, while the most valuable contributor on a match to match basis has been N'Golo Kanté, who often goes unnoticed by the novice viewer, but after helping both Leicester City and Chelsea to back to back championships in the Premier league, Kanté has brought that same work ethic too this Les Bleus side, and the results have been undeniable since he started earning national team caps.
The Les Bleus number nine Olivier Giroud has continued to be the lone under-performer within the starting eleven, the Chelsea striker has failed to truly find his grove while on Russian soil, often reliant on service to be truly effective atop Frances 4-2-3-1 formation, Giroud could find himself in a beneficial spot to make an impact against this Croatia side, who have continued to allow their opposition to score on set-piece situations, where the French danger-man can flourish inside the box.
Frances back-line, and most notably their center-back pairing of Samuel Umtiti and Rafael Varane will understand exactly what Croatian midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic offer in attack, with each currently members of their opponents club sides, the familiarity should be an advantage in cutting down the passing lanes in the final third of the pitch, and blocking long range shots were this 'Blazers' duo can be truly special.
Hugo Lloris has simply been special during his participation in the 2018 World Cup, now the Spurs keeper will take part in the most important 90 minutes of his professional career, known for his quick reflexes and instinctual shot blocking abilities, he will surely be called upon to make one or two spectacular saves in order too see this French side across the finish line.
Croatia have been the ultimate survivors up too this spot in the tournament, lasting three extra-time matches and two penalty shoot-outs, earning a trip to their first Finals match in the countries brief history.
Zlatko Dalić entered his managerial position under a cloud of controversy, after being placed in charge during a turbulent spell in European qualifiers, the former national team member guided his beloved nation to safety, and now sits on the door-step of immortality within his country. Dalić truly believes his squad are destined for the World Cup title, but his stiffest test will come the Les Bleus squad, who have mowed down their opponents at an impressive rate to date.
The 'Vatreni' rely heavily on the influence of their all-world midfielders, as previously mentioned Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic run much of what is successful within this tiny nation's attack. Modric is the true general on the pitch within Croatia's 4-1-4-1 formation, able to run at defenses and break them down with his classy dribbling skills, while using effective through balls and clinical passing techniques, which place his under-rated danger men in the best spots to succeed. Rakitic has always provided more of a work-rate on the defensive side of the ball, although each are more than capable of playing at a high-level from both sides of the pitch, the Barcelona man has taken the responsibility of being a true multi-purpose weapon to another level. Expect Rakitic to play a little deeper than his fellow La Liga partner, as he will look to intercept passes and quickly become a resourceful outlet as he springs the offense into motion.
The Serie A connection of Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic have continued to raise their level of play as the tournament has progressed, often over shadowed by their high profile midfield mates, this paring were truly responsible for the Blazers playing for the right to lift major silverware on Sunday. The Croatian trigger-men each offer their own distinct styles while in the starting eleven, with Perisic more athletic and able to get out during counter attacking scenarios, while conveniently finding himself on the winning end of challenges in the box, his all-around game helps this Croatia side in their designed plan of attack. Mandzukic is a old fashioned striker, taking more of a methodical straight forward approach, he is ever dangerous in poacher situations where he can re-locate the ball, and strategically place it in the back of the net.
The key figures on the Croatia back-line may find themselves in dire situations, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida are no strangers to big match disasters, and the challenge of keeping Frances dynamic players in front of them over the course of 90 minutes will test their true professionalism on an incredible level. The Vaterini center-back combination understand the French enjoy inviting pressure, and then springing out on the counter where they can easily pick defenses apart with the simplest of passes, or explosive runs in the final third of the pitch.
Danijel Subasic must also be applauded for his effort provided in goal for the Blazers, able to form a wall in between the sticks during the Group Stage process, only allowing one shot to hit the back of the net against three top quality opponents, he also followed that up with four saves in penalty shoot-outs in the knock-out stage, that were determining factors in his team progressing through to the World Cup finals. Subasic is quite familiar with many of these French players, currently playing for Monaco of France's Lique One, he was a teammate of Kylian Mbappé during their magical run in the 2016-2017 season, and will surely understand what the young man brings in front of goal.
France vs Croatia - Prediction
Croatia have built quite a following in route to this final's match-up, after fighting off three straight extra-time contests, it is hard not to root for this squad who seemingly never give up, regardless of the situation.
France on the other hand have been in cruise control since topping Group C, eliminating two South American teams, and fellow European powers Belgium in a convincing matter, to give no doubts why they are considered the favorites coming into Sunday's match.
The Croatians seem to be indestructible, but after 360 minutes and two penalty shoot-outs over the last three matches, one would have to figure they would begin to show fatigue as this Championship match moves closer to the end of 90 minutes.
Les Bleus would be wise to use this situation too their advantage, allowing the Croatians to have large amounts of possession to use extra energy, while running at the defense at any given opportunity to test their legs and all-around fitness.
I would expect this Croatian side to play hard just based off their pedigree, and overall sense of pride, but France possess a more explosive and fresh side, who are certain to challenge their fellow Europeans more and more as this Finals match-up progresses, and eventually find a break-through by the way of a counter attack, or set piece situation.
France vs Croatia - Tip
France -110 / 1.91 - Full Time