Croatia will meet France in the 2018 World Cup in Moscow on Sunday after beating England 2-1 in extra-time in the semi-final. Mario Mandzukic got the all-important winning goal to give Croatia the first major final in their history. It’s 20 years since the French national side won their first and only World Cup title and have already beaten some of the best sides in the tournament this time around. It’s a great opportunity to get their second World Cup title but will it end the same as it did in the European Championships final two years ago?
The stage was set for England at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday night. Gareth Southgate’s men took the lead within the opening five minutes after Kieran Trippier curled in a free kick from the edge of the area. England continued to push forward and started creating some important opportunities. The tournament’s top scorer Harry Kane couldn’t convert and the teams went into the half-time break at 1-0.
Croatia grabbed an equaliser just after the hour mark as they took advantage of a toothless second-half performance from England. Mario Mandzukic grabbed the winner in extra time as Croatia reached their first World Cup final.
It’s a hugely impressive achievement for a country of four million people which only became an independent country in 1991, a year after England last reached a World Cup semi-final. Croatia have had a long and difficult knockout phase after a comfortable group stage.
They won every match in a difficult group which featured Argentina and Nigeria but have been forced to play extra time in every one of their knockout matches so far. The match against England was perhaps the clearest win of them all after being forced to penalties against Denmark and hosts Russia.
It must be a good feeling for manager Zlatko Dalić after taking over in October of last year. Croatia qualified by the skins of their teeth but have grown and developed as this tournament of upsets has progressed. Midfielder Luka Modrić has grabbed much of the praise for his wonderful performances in the centre of midfield.
But he’s not alone. Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozović have become the perfect midfield partners for Modrić in the centre of the park. Ivan Perisić is also starting to find some goalscoring form after what had been a rather disappointing group stage for him. Croatia have improved as this World Cup has gone on but face a tough test in the final.
They will come up against a France side which is playing in its second major final in two years. Didier Deschamps’ men reached the last two in the European Championships in 2016 and will be hoping for a different result this time around after a surprise 1-0 defeat to Portugal in Paris.
“I am not going to lie. At the Euros, we thought that it was already done. We told ourselves that we had won already after beating Germany, that was the real final for us,”midfielder Paul Pogba said this week
“We are aware of that now. We don’t want to repeat the same mistake. We will prepare differently. We really want to win this final.”
France have beaten some of the best teams in the competition to get to this point. They got out of a relatively straightforward group only to triumph over Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium on their route to the final. Their midfield of Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante has impressed immensely but most of the plaudits have gone to striker Kylian Mbappe.
The 19-year-old has stood out in his first major international tournament with three goals to his name already. Comparisons have already been drawn to the Brazilian Ronaldo during his breakout World Cup in 1998. France will just be hoping that Mbappe is able to play in the final.
Mbappe and France are the major favourites to do what Ronaldo and Brazil couldn’t back in 1998 and win the tournament. They are 10/11 on Betway Sports as of 13 July with Croatia out at 4/1. The bookies certainly think that three consecutive matches lasting 120 minutes will hinder Zlatko Dalić’s men.
It promises to be a fascinating match between the two European sides. For France, it could be the beginning of a spell of true international dominance considering the incredible talent in this young squad. For Croatia, this is more of a surprise. They too are blessed with something of a golden generation but the likes of Modrić and Rakitic are both approaching the ends of their careers. We can only wait and see what will happen in Moscow on Sunday.