What a great couple of semi finals it was in the 2018 FIFA World Cup over the last few days. France were victorious over Belgium on Wednesday morning before the tournament surprise packets Croatia earned an extra time win over England. The final is set for Sunday night/Monday morning at 1am and should be an absolutely cracking game. We preview the match in full and give our betting tips below!
France vs Croatia
Monday 16th July 1am AEST
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
France will be making their first appearance in a World Cup Final since their heartbreaking loss to Italy in the 2006 tournament in Germany. Fans will remember the iconic scene of French superstar Zinedine Zidane head-butting an opponent and being sent off with a red card in the 110th minute. The French went on to lose in a penalty shootout as Italy lifted their fourth title.
It will be the third overall World Cup Final for the French, who just eight years prior to the loss to Italy, they lifted the trophy with a 3-0 win over Brazil in the 1998 final. They have been one of the standout teams of the World Cup so far, and their defence was at it’s best again in the semi final win over Belgium on Wednesday morning. They held Belgium scoreless for the first time in the World Cup as defender Samuel Umtiti found the back of the net in the 51st minute with a header to give the French the crucial 1-0 lead.
Apart from a thrilling Round of 16 matchup against Argentina, the French have barely had to get out of second gear in the lead up to the final. They breezed through the group stage, allowing just one goal en-route to the top spot in Group C. They overcame the tough Argentine side in the Round of 16 with a 4-3 score line after trailing 2-1 at one point.
Since then, they have kept two of the more prominent attacks in the competition scoreless in Uruguay and Belgium to advance to the final.
The back four of Hernandez, Umtiti, Varane and Pavard has been solid throughout, and Pavard in particular has been a focal point in attacks down the right wing. The holding prowess in the midfield of N’Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi makes it extremely tough for opposition midfielders to navigate and the creative work of Paul Pogba has been fantastic.
Kylian Mbappe has arguably been the player of the tournament while Antoine Griezmann has been the at his creative best. Olivier Giroud has had a bit of a quiet tournament and amazingly still hasn’t registered a shot on target, however, the way he has held up the ball and fed the running Griezmann and Mbappe has been first class.
England opted not to play an extra holding midfielder to quell the damage of the dynamic Croatian midfield and while they lost the game, it wasn’t exactly a bad call. We expect France to go in unchanged this weekend.
Before 2018, Croatia had only advanced as far as the semi final on one occasion, their first tournament as an independent nation back in 1998. Since then they have qualified for three of five tournaments but have been bounced in the group stage at all three. There could be some bad blood between these two teams because ironically, it was France who knocked out Croatia in the 1998 semi final before going on to win the tournament.
The Croats were fantastic in the group stage, winning all three games and conceding just one goal on the way to a 9 point, +6 goal difference group stage win over Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland. Since then, however, it’s been one of the tougher roads to the final that we’ve seen. It took penalties to get past both Denmark and Russia in the Round of 16 and quarter finals and the win wasn’t secured in their semi final match against England until striker Mario Mandzukic found the back of the net in the 109th minute.
The back four of Strinic, Vida, Lovren and Vrsaljko has been solid all tournament, allowing just five goals in six games but it’s been the midfield that has been the engine room for the Croats. Boasting arguably the most talented midfield in the competition, Croatian stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakatic have been at their creative best in front of holding midfieler Marcelo Brozovic who has been rock solid. The front three in Perisic, Mandzakic and Rebic have slotted five goals between them and will need to be massive again if the Croats have any hopes of lifting their first World Cup trophy on Monday morning.
Croatia should go into the final unchanged as well, meaning both teams will be at full strength for the big game.
2011 – France drew Croatia 0-0
2004 – Croatia drew France 2-2
2000 – Croatia lt France 0-2
1999 – France dft Croatia 3-0
1998 – France dft Croatia 2-1
Always tough to pick the winner in the final of a big football tournament. Usually, both teams play so defensively that we often see a 1-0 result or a draw. Two or less goals have been scored in six out of the last seven World Cup Finals. Both of these teams pride themselves on their defence and their holding midfield capabilities so we think either way this will be another low scoring final.
As for the winner, as we said it’s always a toss up in the final of a big tournament, but it’s hard to look past France. They have been the dominant team in world football since their heartbreaking loss to Portigal in the 2016 European Championship Final. Since then they have played 28 total games and lost just three. Two of those losses came in friendly games against tough opponents in Spain and Colombia while they only lost one game in all of the World Cup qualifiers to Sweden back in 2017.
Croatia will be absolutely exhausted after their knockout phase so far, which has seen them play a full hour and a half more than their opponents leading into the final. We like France to win 1-0 here.
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