It’s been a fun month in Russia, but now it’s time to say goodbye.
In true Russia World Cup fashion, will we see one more crazy upset? That’s the storyline for the 2018 final, as France is a huge favorite over Croatia, the smallest nation to reach the World Cup final since 1950.
World Cup Final Preview
For a nation of just over four million, it’s crazy to fathom even reaching this stage. But it’s even crazier when you consider the trials Croatia had to endure to become the lowest-ranked team to ever appear in a World Cup final.
In each of their three knockout matches, Croatia trailed at one point. In two of those matches, they advanced via penalty shootout. They are only the second team in World Cup history to win two shootouts in a single tournament.
For comparison, France have trailed for nine minutes and twelve seconds in Russia. Outside of their wild 4-3 win over Argentina, they have conceded just one goal in Russia.
France are in the final for the third time in six World Cups, and are looking to join a select group of nations to win multiple World Cups. France lost their last finals appearance in 2006, but won as hosts in 1998. Didier Deschamps was the captain for that squad in 1998, and he’s the man on the sideline for Les Bleus on Sunday.
Despite the difference in experiences, these teams have similar construction. They are both world-class in the midfield, with Croatia getting a technical edge and France being better defensively.
Despite France having the edge in attacking power, both teams make use of a target striker up front. Olivier Giroud hasn’t been the productive goalscorer in Russia, but he’s somewhat made up for it with effort at both ends. Mario Mandzukic is more relied upon for goals, and the Juventus man delivered the dagger against England in the semifinals.
These teams have also had outstanding goalkeeping. Hugo Lloris has been very stable, and along with others on his roster is looking to forget past performances. Danijel Subašić has been legendary for Croatia in this tournament, especially in two penalty shootouts. But the biggest save of the tournament may have been missed by broadcast, as it was actually Subasic that kicked away the Harry Kane sitter that could have put England up by two goals.
Croatia are no stranger to the underdog role. Even if France score first, it would just be another day in Russia. And a composed, mature team is a very dangerous one in the World Cup. France have the youth and the energy, but the longer this game goes, the more it swings in favor of Croatia.