The battle between France and Croatia to win the 18-carat gold FIFA World Cup trophy will be decided today at the Luzhniki Stadium, in Russia.
The 21st FIFA World Cup has thrown up interesting facts especially on the two nations.
According to the record books, the two national teams have previously played each other five times with France winning three of those matches, while the other two resulted in a draw.
The first game was played on July 8, 1998, during the World Cup semifinals. Les Bleus as the France team is called won 2-1 to advance to the finals, which they won over Brazil on home soil.
France and Croatia last played each other in March 2011 during an international friendly exhibition, but it resulted in a 0-0 draw.
France is one of the three teams to have managed to win the showpiece game by three goals, starting with Brazil’s 5-2 defeat of Sweden in 1958. Brazil also swept aside Italy 4-1 in 1970, before France repeated the feat with their 3-0 success against the South American giants in 1998.
It will be noted here that the ‘Le Blues’ as the French national team is called became the sixth host nation to win the tournament on home soil, a feat previously achieved by Uruguay in 1930, Italy in 1934, England in 1966, West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978.
Didier Deschamps was France’s captain in 1998 and now a coach in 2018, the former midfielder could become just the third man after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and German icon Franz Beckenbauer to lift the World Cup Trophy both as a player and coach.
France naturally was expected to make a huge impact in the World Cup especially after losing the Euro 2016 final on home soil. They did not fail.
Typically, coach Didier Deschamps has been conservative all through and has led the team to score goals when it mattered most and from the more unlikely sources – centre backs scored the quarterfinal and semifinal winners.
Meanwhile, the Croatians become the smallest nation to contest the World Cup final since Uruguay, who won the tournament in 1950 when the nation had a population of around 2.4 million. They are also the making their debut on the world stage, making them the 13th nation to reach a World Cup final.
This ‘small’ Balkan nation was on the verge of missing out completely of the trip to Russia when former coach Ante Čačić was fired just a couple days before their last scheduled qualifier. But they won, 2-0, at Ukraine to book a playoff place, then eased past Greece last November.
Croatia led by the versatile, cerebral and relentless Luka Modrić, who’s been a massive part of Real Madrid’s three consecutive European titles. And Croatia looked fantastic during this World Cup’s group stage but have now has played a full 90 minutes more than France putting the extra minutes in the previous games.
Croatia’s first such generation made the semis in ’98, but then it failed to qualify or get out of the group stage for 20 years. This is the second, and this is their chance.
Taking stock of both teams’ strength which lies in the midfield and flanks where stars like N’Golo Kanté, Kylian Mbappé, Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić have ensured their respective teams cleared all opponents out of their ways to world glory. Now, both teams stand in their ways.
Interestingly, this will be the third all-European final in the past four World Cups, and Croatia.
Stars to watch out for
Kylian Mbappé (France)
The 19 year old rising superstar is gradually making a huge name for himself. He has made use of the World Cup stage to show to the world once again how huge and immense his talents are. He is the new World Cup king and has the world at his ‘blistering’ feet after breaking a 60 year old record set by Pele to become the first teenager to score more than once in a World Cup match. Pele hit a double in Brazil’s final win against Sweden in 1958.
Antonio Griezmann (France)
The Atletico Madrid forward never fails to proof his talents and has been highly influential in the scheme of things to see his nation progress to the finals. By sheer ill luck, he missed out of winning the Euro 2016 and will surely do all within his power to win this World Cup. He is fast and clinical.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
There is the need to rewrite the dictionary as we search for words to describe him. Once tagged ‘La Liga worst signing’ in 2012 Spanish fans, he rose from zero to hero to lead Real Madrid to world and European club glory. No player has been more consistently influential in these finals than Luka Modrić. He has the golden opportunity to be a world champion. He is the engine, the oil, the facilitator, the executor, the bridge in the Croatian team.
Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)
The Barcelona midfield lynchpin has been superb in his role in the midfield. His attacking skills and work rate on stopping counter attacks from the pacy teams is incomparable. He’s an offensive-minded player, but he is also an avid defender when his team requires it. He has good game vision and his passing capability is excellent.