After the conclusion of both semifinals, we have the last two teams standing; France, quite predictably as they were a favoured outfit even before the tournament, and Croatia, who punched well above their weight to become first-time finalists. Well and truly a David and Goliath game, but can Croatia perform one last miracle and become the next nation to have won a World Cup?
Giroud v Lovren: These two will know each other well from their Premier League tussles. Giroud is usually a lightning rod for possession in France’s attack, like most target men, he is expected to receive the ball and play it off to his fellow forwards to build the attack. When he’s kept quiet, it means France’s whole forward movement suffers as a consequence, and Lovren has looked competent throughout this tournament, so the Frenchman will likely have some difficulty getting into the game.
Kante/Pogba v Modric/Rakitic: It’s no secret that a lot of Croatia’s success in controlling a game originates from their talented midfield pairing, something that France is going to have to try and disrupt. Kante is adept at covering a lot of ground and hassling midfielders and forwards, but Pogba often neglects his defensive positioning, which can open up space for Modric and Rakitic to find key passes. Deschamps may elect to add a third midfielder into the mix in place of a forward to even out this fight.
Rebic v Hernandez: Lucas Hernandez has done brilliantly at left-back for France, but he’ll be tasked with keeping the energetic Rebic in check over ninety minutes. A lot of Croatia’s dangerous crosses came from Rebic in their semifinal game, and although Hernandez has done well so far, he’s young and inexperienced at the highest level. He’ll need to show a lot of discipline in tracking Rebic if France is going to avoid getting sucker-punched by a Mandzukic goal, much like the way England did.
Predicted Line Ups:
Fatigue will probably play a significant role in this match due to Croatia’s increased playing-time in the previous three knockout games. All three of those matches went to extra-time, meaning they’ve played a full 90 minutes of football more than the French have. Over such a short period, having played the equivalent of an additional game will be relevant, especially considering the lung-busting running the Croatians had to do to get past England.
Although France have a lot of benefits on paper, the superior squad, a fresher starting XI, and the reputation of having won the World Cup before – we’ve seen that Croatia won’t back down against good opposition. The French were undone by a tenacious Portugal side in Euro 2016, and if they want to avoid a similar upset in this World Cup final their young side will need to show better maturity and composure in key moments. It’s France’s to lose at this stage, and Croatia have enjoyed the role of being the underdogs in this tournament, but against the French, it might be one game too far.
Predicted Result: France 3 – 1 Croatia