When the World Cup was in the group stage, Croatia was looking pretty awesome. They had gone through a stretch where they had taken six shots on target, and scored with five of them. But when they got into the knockout stage of the competition, things got a little more grueling for them, to the point where they have had to go into extra time to gather victories in the last three games. This may be demonstrative of their ability to come through in crunch time, but it may not bode well for them as they face a better-rested squad from France in the championship game, which is scheduled to get underway at 11 AM ET in Moscow. Fox Network will carry the game, and BetAnySports customers have a chance to place wagers even after it begins, utilizing the state-of-the-art software form Live Betting Ultra.
Here's perhaps the biggest problem for Croatia as they move into this game - not that they're banged up, but they have a lot less time to rest, having played their semi-final game against England on Wednesday, while France played Belgium on Tuesday. And Croatia has had to go to extra time in all three of its contests in the knockout stage, which brought them into a situation where they have played 90 more minutes than France.
Still, there is no reason for Croatia not to feel confident. That's because they have been solid in just about every phase of the game. And they can match up fairly well in various spots, including midfield and at the striker position. They'll threaten on the offensive end, if they can get Luka Modric's engine going at full speed.
Croatia has never been to the World Cup final before. In '98 they faced France in the semi-finals and lost.
In the World Cup betting odds posted on this game at BetAnySports, Croatia is the underdog to an extremely talented French side:
Regulation plus stoppage time
FRANCE wins -225
CROATIA wins +195
France -1/2 Goal -111
Croatia +1/2 Goal -104
Under 2 Goals -118
Over 2 Goals +103
One of the things you can say about Croatia is that they have been able to brave more than a few life-and-death situations and survived. Some of that has to be traced back to leadership. Ante Cacic was fired by the national football federation right before the last game of qualifying, as he just wasn't getting his team to respond the way they wanted him to. In stepped Zlatko Dalic, who has gotten more productivity out of the squad.
The midfield pair of Modric, along with Ivan Rakitic, is world-class. Rakitic, who plays for Barcelona in La Liga, was with Switzerland as a youth, but switched his international allegiance to Croatia in 2007. He is good on the attack and is usually in the right place at the right time. Modric, the captain, is versatile, in the sense that he can function as a top-level playmaker as well as a striker. He has done a little more of the latter. One of the reasons Dalic has received praise is that he has found a way to effectively combine the talents of Modric and Rakitic, which has not been easy over the course of time.
As Modric plays, he has a criminal charge hanging over his head. In a court trial involving, among others, Zdravko Mamic, the former director of Dinamo Zagleb, who is accused of embezzlement and tax fraud, Modric, in his testimony, promoted a perjury charge, so he may yet have to face the music. And Modric isn't the only Croatian player who has encountered controversy; defender Domagoj Vida dedicated the team's win over Russia to Ukraine, which was considered enough of a no-no that he was warned by the federation, while assistant coach Oenjen Vukojevic, who joined him in the celebration, was fired from his position.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic (who plays for Monaco) has done well, but he is not the equal of France's Hugo Lloris, if this comes down to a shootout. And if there is a weakness for Croatia, it may be that it has a defensive corps that is steady but nothing spectacular. Ar the same time, if France decides to take a conservative approach, as they have done in some other games, that could help Croatia stay in it. They have some experience on their side, averaging almost 30 across the lineup, while France is the second-youngest team, from top to bottom, in this entire tournament. And it only takes one big shot from the leg of capable striker Mario Mandzukic (who scored the winner vs. England) to keep them very much alive. In the end, we feel they'll fall short, but would not be surprised if they pushed this thing in extra time - again.
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