WC 2018 Final Preview: FRANCE V CROATIA – 15 July – Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Croatia showed immense competitive character in coming back from being down for the second time in the knock-outs to eliminate England 2-1 and gain their first entry into a World Cup final. They run into a formidable France who are enjoying their third final in two decades.
Croatia will look to the their mid-field masters Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to give shape to the proceedings given that the duo have been at the heart of team’s titanic fight-backs in all the three knock-out games and even in their smooth passage through the Group games before that. The Croat defence of Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have the daunting prospect of dealing with the speed and silkiness of the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antionne Griezmann, both main protagonists of the French success in the tournament so far. Coach Didier Deschamps may not have failed to notice the ease with which English strikers were able to get behind the Croatian back-line in the first half and it was some very abysmal finishing by the Three Lions that saved the day for Zlatko Dalic’s men. The Croats have taken time to settle down in each of their outings and the French will try to hit them hard before that happens.
As far as the attack goes, the likes of Ante Rebic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic have all been opportunistic and getting late and vital goals but could find the French defense marshalled by Samuel Umtiti, Raphael Varane and the brilliant Hugo Lloris between the posts, hard to break down. Les Bleus have hardly conceded goals from close quarters, the last being Sergio Aguero’s late but futile header and Gabriel Mercado’s lucky deflection in the Argentina game. The relative youth of the French side (one of the youngest in the tournament) allows them to move from a defensive position to an offensive one in no time and this is something that will trouble the Croatians a great deal.
At the international level, both nations have met on five occasions since 1998 with the Croats having lost three and drawn two. Deschamp’s men go in with a definite advantage into Sunday’s showdown but the French have been known to bungle as they did against Portugal in the Euro 2016 final. For Les Blues it would be their second win after WC 1998 if they were to emerge victorious at Moscow.
France probable starting XI: Hugo Lloris (goal), Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernandez, Paul Pogba, N’golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, Antionne Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi, Olivier Giroud
Croatia probable starting XI: Danijel Subasic (goal), Sime Vrsaljko, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic, Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic