France vs Croatia
Like yesterday, the FIFA World Cup 2018 is coming to an end with the 64th match set to go down today between France and Croatia, not for the first time for Le Blues who triumphed on home soil in 1998, the tournament that had Zinedine Zidane written all over the final with two goals. The losers’ final was keenly contested but tilted favourably for Belgium as predicted by yours truly after Thomas Meunier and Eden Hazard bagged the goals for the Red Devils. Both England and Belgium can be proud of their achievements and head home with high hopes for Qatar in another four years.
Croatia have made the most of the quality materials in their midfield to get this far, compact, fluid and quick with intelligent runs, discipline at the rear. Dalic and the entire coaching crew have delivered to their nation the best ever finish at the highest level having bettered their 1998 outing with a final appearance; ironically it was France that ended their hopes then, the hosts came from behind via two Lilian Thuram goals, his only international goals for Le Blues proving vital as they went on to take Brazil to the cleaners in the final. Ever since 1998, Croatia have failed to make it past the group stages at the FIFA World Cup until now.
France labored in vain in 2006, losing to Italy in the final on penalties, remembered again for Zidane’s head butt on Marco Materazzi after full time ended 1:1. Didier Deschamps captained France to glory in 1998, he is about to be the third to win the highest trophy in football as a player and then as a coach but standing in his way was a team he helped overcome twenty years ago. France didn’t get here by strokes of luck, in a group they were expected to dominate, they finished top with seven points and then went on to end Argentina’s run with a 4:3 win inspired by Kylian Mbappe before sweeping Uruguay aside cleanly in a 2:0 win. Their biggest win came in the 1:0 victory over the slayers of Brazil, Belgium, their mental alertness, awareness and precision came to the fore as experience prevailed over talent on the day.
Croatia announced their intentions with a 2:0 success over Nigeria in their group opener, they hit another gear against Argentina, shipping three past the Lionel Messi led side and went on to beat Iceland at the death with a Perisic scorcher, from there it’s been 120mins of football which might haunt them in the final against a much refreshed Le Bleus side. Two penalty shootout wins against Denmark and Russia and then a 2:1 win over England after extra time on Wednesday to book a date with France; history could be about to repeat itself with a first timer hoping to win as it happens every twenty years. Argentina won it for the first time in 1978, France triumphed for the first time in 1998 and Croatia hoping to achieve same in Russia twenty years after France’s feat on home soil.
All players should be available, with no major injury concern or suspension, both have strengths in same areas and should look to cancel each other out, the grit of the Croats will be met by the guts of the French forwards, man for man you might want to tilt this towards the 1998 champions but Croatia didn’t come this far to shrink at the biggest stage. Brozovic has been the unsung hero of this Croatian side, his vision and timely tackles have been the fulcrum of this Dalic managed side, he frees up Luka Modric, allowing the Real Madrid star to roam and bomb around, the ground Brozovic covers in every game is the reason Kovacic isn’t getting game time; while it could be laughable to watch Dejan Lovren calling himself one of the best in the world after the win over England, one will agree it’s a different Lovren that is commanding the defense in Russia for Croatia alongside Vida.
Samuel Umtiti and Rafael Varane are two solid pairs with the most number of clean sheets at this tournament, back to back clean sheets in the knockout stages against the likes of Luis Suarez and Romelu Lukaku speaks volume of their water tight defending. Pace and trickery aplenty, Mbappe and Griezmann will test the Croats defense, Giroud’s cut backs and drop downs must be taken seriously as Croatia look to weather the storm. Today, it will be a game of precision and guts, no hiding place.
Ramsey’s Verdict: Croatia to be champions
Dipo’s Verdict: France for the mullah
Feature Image: forbes.com