The first question to be answered by Croatia will be the level of their physical preparedness after three consecutive extra time affairs and two penalty shootouts? They have the players and the experience at the highest level; but this France team cruised into the final without any major hiccup. Les Bleus may have just one question to answer – can they come back if they concede first?
Croatia have shown resolve, doggedness, heart, plus the ability to recover bad situations. They were behind against Denmark, against Russia, and against England but they triumphed in all three – getting better as the games progressed.
Stats tell us that in every match in which Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante have been paired, France have never lost. Will that stat still be true at the end of 90 minutes or 120 on Sunday? Croatia also have their talisman – having never lost when Andrej Kramaric has scored. Will Zlatko Dalic start the forward or Marcelo Brozovic to shore up his midfield?
All these questions will get answers, starting from 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Head to head [Last 5]
29/03/11 FRI France 0 – 0 Croatia
17/06/04 EUC Croatia 2 – 2 France
27/05/00 FRI Croatia 0 – 2 France
13/11/99 FRI France 3 – 0 Croatia
08/07/98 WOC France 2 – 1 Croatia
Three duels to watch
Luka Modric v N’Golo Kante
The two midfielders, both slight and short, and probably told at the beginning of their careers they would never succeed because of their stature; but here they are, giants of the game and driving their countries to a World Cup triumph. Kante has been neat, efficient and the workaholic we all know and respect, winning back possession 48 times plus 14 successful tackles; while Modric has been the Vatreni conductor, knitting it all together whether it is from a deep-lying position or behind the main striker.
Ivan Strinic v Kylian Mbappe
Strinic limped off on Wednesday night but should start and he will be crucial to curtail the fleet-footed Mbappe. France have continuously used the 19-year-old as a veritable outlet to attack and he will be sure to attack any space left by Strinic in partnership with Domagoj Vida.
Current Form [Last 6 matches]
Mario Madzukic v Samuel Umtiti
Mandzukic has been awesome for Croatia in Russia, causing havoc and scoring very important goals. Umtiti has also had a wonderful tournament but he will need to stand up to the physical battle Mandzukic will offer on Sunday. If he gives an inch, Croatia will plough through that French defence like a hot knife through butter.
Quotes to Ponder
“Statistics and records are here to be broken. It does not matter who is our opponent in the final. It is our goal to give our best, the whole world will be watching Croatia. We came here to enjoy the game and to win it. My players have played a lot of matches in the Champions League – including finals – but this is the biggest game of their careers.” – Zlatko Dalic, Croatia Manager
“In 2016, we made the mistake of being overconfident,” he said. “After beating Germany in the semi-finals, we felt we were destined to win. I can promise you we won’t make the same mistake again.” – Paul Pogba, France Midfielder
Stadium: Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium can seat 78,000 comfortably; but the spectators will be on the edge of their seats as the curtain is drawn on Russia 2018.
“The Moskva Riverflows right alongside the stadium and there is a cable-car connecting the two. Tens of thousands of Muscovites play all kinds of sports at the Luzhniki Olympic Complex and today it is a popular place for recreation and family strolls.”
Referee in charge: It will be the hulking Argentine, 43-year-old Nestor Pitana, who started the journey in the Russia, Saudi Arabia match, that also has the distinction of closing it. Before the final, he had refereed other matches at Russia 2018; Mexico-Sweden, Croatia-Denmark, in which he awarded Croatia a penalty in extra time, and France-Uruguay. He has handled both countries once each and gave out 12 yellow cards, no red cards and awarded two penalty kicks. He follows his compatriot, Horacio Elizondo, who also officiated the opening and closing matches of the 2006 World Cup.
World Cup fact: France became world champions in 1998 without their then main striker, Stephane Guivarc’h scoring and with Didier Deschamps as the captain. Olivier Giroud is yet to find the net in Russia with Deschamps as manager!