World Cup 2018: Final preview

The 2018 World Cup final in Russia is set. It will feature two teams who followed different paths to reach it – France and Croatia. Meanwhile, Belgium and England will face off in the third-place match a day earlier.

France – Croatia

Kick-off: Sunday, July 15, 17:00, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
The final is a rematch of the 1998 semi-final which ended with a 2-1 victory for France thanks to two goals by Lilian Thuram. The loss was very painful for the Croatians, who had high hopes of reaching their first World Cup final with what was conceived to be their golden generation. It didn’t happen then, but it happened now with their second golden generation led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Once more, the obstacle they’ll have to overcome is France.

Les Bleus reached the final by finishing atop Group C with 7 points, ahead of Denmark, Peru and Australia, and then eliminating Argentina (4-3), Uruguay (2-0) and Belgium (1-0) without the need of extra time. Croatia also topped its group with three wins from three matches against Nigeria (2-0), Argentina (3-0) and Iceland (2-1). Unlike France, it needed extra time in all of its knockout round encounters to get to the final. Denmark was defeated on penalty kicks, Russia suffered the same faith, before England was beaten with a Mario Mandzukic 109th minute goal. It’s a fantastic achievement no matter how you look at it. Nobody else in World Cup history has done what Zlatko Dalic’s men have accomplished.

With the energy resources down to bare minimum and revenge as an additional motivator, Croatia will likely take some risks in order to get the job done before the batteries run out. Didier Deschamps’ team has been very steady, calm and hasn’t really be challenged up to this point, even though the final result versus Argentina suggests otherwise. They haven’t reached full gear and have the players to break Croatia’s defense. Furthermore, N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi are fully capable of shutting down Modric and Rakitic. As we saw against Denmark, when Croatia’s supply line is cut off, they are just an average squad. Vatreni’s determination and team spirit is extraordinary, but it can only take them so far.

Prediction
France 2 – 0 Croatia

Belgium – England

Kick-off: Saturday, July 14, 16:00, Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Belgium and England will try to drown their sorrows in the third-place playoff match. If Belgium wins, it will be its biggest World Cup success in history. For England, it will simply be a consolation prize for their efforts throughout this tournament.