France are favourites but Croatia may be destined for glory


Regardless of what happens in tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup final between France and Croatia, the Vatreni have already made history this summer. Indeed, they are the first team in the tournament’s history to reach the final after each of their three knockout matches went to extra time. Denmark, Russia and England have all taken Zlatko Dalić’s side beyond 90 minutes, which many fear could take its toll on them physically in the Luzhniki Stadium.

On the contrary, Les Bleus have made their way to the showpiece match in Moscow with relative ease, having dispatched Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium in regulation time. Didier Deschamps’ men managed to overcome a sluggish start to the competition which saw them scrape to an opening 2-1 victory over Australia before drawing 0-0 against Denmark in what was arguably the worst game of the tournament.

Naturally, Dalić is keen to downplay his team’s chances of securing what will undeniably be a huge upset. Here is what he had to say: “We are still living our dreams, we are so close. Through my life and career, I went the hard way. I did not want to be just an average coach in Croatia. I had to start from the lowest club,” he said.

“Within a year in Asia, I became the best coach, and for three years, I was coach of Al-Ain [in the United Arab Emirates], who are like Real Madrid in Europe. That was a tremendous experience for me. I coached two of the biggest clubs in Asia, so when Croatia’s call arrived, I did not hesitate.

“With this great result, we have definitely entered history as one of the smallest countries ever in the World Cup finals. When we look at the conditions in which we work, we are a world wonder and phenomenon. We do not have the appropriate environment with big teams, but we have great players, who have brought us such joy. This is a planetary success.

“There are two top teams in the World Cup final. This will be our biggest game and our toughest opponent, for sure. France are very dangerous on the counter-attack. We had a tough journey to the final, but there are no excuses, we are ready for the last game of the tournament.”

The Livno native, who has also coached Saudi Professional League club Al-Hilal, was keen to avoid providing his players with the excuse of having played more football than their opponents. Croatia’s performances have been professional if a little unspectacular. Truth be told, they have been living on the edge since topping their group with maximum points. So, could it be that their name is inscribed on the Jules Rimet trophy already?

Here are the predicted line-ups for both sides:

France (4-3-3): Hugo Lloris; Benjamin Pavard, Raphaël Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Hernández; Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté, Blaise Matuidi; Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann.

Croatia (4-2-3-1): Danijel Subašić; Šime Vrsaljko, Domagoj Vida, Dejan Lovren, Ivan Strinić; Ivan Rakitić, Marcelo Brozović; Ante Rebić, Luka Modrić, Ivan Perišić; Mario Mandžukić.

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