France and Croatia meet in the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday (11am ET). The match is a repeat of the 1998 semi-final, the direct prelude to the one and only time France have previously won the competition and Croatia’s best-ever performance at a World Cup prior to this year’s run. France came from behind to win 2-1.
Overturning a deficit is something that France have only had to do once in Russia. They have scored the first goal in the five of their six matches that have seen goals, and only in their round-of-16 win over Argentina was that lead then reversed. On that occasion, France equalised within 10 minutes and then scored a further two in the following 10.
That encounter, a 4-3 win for France, featured as many goals as all five of France’s other matches in the tournament. Their progress to the final has been remarkably controlled. They have played a cautious game, prioritising defensive structure and relying on the strength of their attacking talent and their aerial prowess at set-pieces to see them to victory.
That formula was at work in their 2-0 win over Uruguay in their quarter-final, in which a Raphael Varane header from a corner put them ahead and a goalkeeping error allowed Antoine Griezmann to double their lead, and again in their 1-0 triumph over Belgium in Tuesday’s semi-final in Saint-Petersburg.
After an even first half, Samuel Umtiti rose to head in a near-post corner early into the second. After that France successfully squeezed the life out of the game, defending strongly on the ground and in the air, holding possession when they needed to and creating a couple of spurned opportunities to add to their advantage in the closing stages.
France are certainly not as thrilling a team as they perhaps should be considering some of the players in their ranks, but Didier Deschamps will care little for such complaints if he is able to add to the World Cup he won as a player back in 1998. His side have made it through to the final without ever really stretching themselves or looking unduly troubled.
That is in direct contrast to the way in which Croatia have progressed through the tournament. They did make light work of their group, winning three out of three, including a 3-0 win over Argentina, but they have had to fight and struggle in each of their knockout matches. They went behind in all three, and all three went into extra-time.
After penalty shootout victories over Denmark and hosts Russia, Croatia ended England’s World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win in Wednesday’s semi-final. They conceded early and could easily have let in one or two more in a ragged first-half display. They improved after the break, got their full-backs forward to better effect and equalised through Ivan Perisic. A Mario Mandzukic strike in extra-time saw them advance to the final.
The tone of the post-match comments from coach and players alike spoke to the determination and commitment within the Croatian ranks. They are the smallest country since Uruguay in 1950 to reach a World Cup final. They do so just over a quarter-century removed from independence from Yugoslavia and their first match as a national team.
Luka Modric has been their standout player – and, having already won a Champions League with Real Madrid this year, could bring himself into Ballon d’Or contention if Croatia win on Sunday – but Croatia have a good amount of talent across midfield and attack. They have scored in every one of their matches so far and done so at an average of two goals per match.
The main question marks are whether they will again be able to replicate the physical exertion required in each of their previous three knockout fixtures, and whether their defence, the team’s relative weak point, will be able to stand up to what is probably the best forward line they have faced during their run, in terms of individuals if not systemically.
Our Preview’s France vs. Croatia Betting Predictions & Picks Verdict
France are favorites with the online sportsbooks for USA players to win this World Cup final. There is no doubt that Croatia will give their all to make it as close a contest as possible, but France have progressed through the tournament in such assured fashion that it is difficult to see them faltering at the decisive stage. They were losing finalists at Euro 2016, but France can be expected to emerge victorious on Sunday to claim their second World Cup trophy.
- Bet on France to win on the moneyline (ie: in normal time) @ best odds of -106 with 5Dimes.