Unfortunately for England fans, football, after all, appears not to be coming home. However, for one of France or Croatia, it certainly will be.
Didier Deschamps has guided his team into the final via the much trickier route of facing Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium, while Croatia have played Denmark, Russia and England in the knockout rounds.
Les Bleus will be feeling confident going into their first World Cup final since 2006, but Zlatko Dalić’s players cannot be underestimated as they have shown their tireless hunger in securing their passage into their first ever final - the country’s greatest ever sporting moment.
While Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar have all gone home, Kylian Mbappé has been increasing his status in world football during the knockout rounds. His performances against Argentina and Belgium have been some of the best this tournament has seen - and he’s not done quite just yet.
The 19-year-old heir to football’s throne is doing things people can only imagine. At such a young age, and being one of the poster boys for French football, Mbappé looks unfazed with the task at hand in bringing home the nation’s second World Cup. He handles the pressure with such composure and ease, as if he was born to conquer the biggest moments of all.
With three goals to his name - two coming in the knockout stages - the Paris Saint-Germain forward has been a breath of fresh air. His runs, spatial intelligence, deft touches and raw speed has been a nuisance for any defender trying to come up against him. They simply cannot get close to him without being burned.
Croatia’s left back, Ivan Strinic, will have the impossible task of keeping the Frenchman quiet throughout the World Cup final. Strinic is likely to have reinforcement as Croatia deploy two men on Mbappé, but, as shown previously, that sometimes is just not enough to contain the effervescent brilliance of France’s prodigal son.
France might have their own magician marauding down the wing, but Croatia have a player that is relentless in exploiting the opposition’s weaknesses and causing damage. Ivan Perišić has been one of Croatia’s most important and influential players, with his exceptional crosses constantly being entertained into the area for Mario Mandžukić.
Just like he showed against England, if the defender allows the Inter forward space and time, Perišić will find the right ball into the box and cause danger time and time again.
There was one passage of play especially where the Croat sent in a beautifully arced cross that escaped the Three Lions’ defence and found its way to the Juventus striker. It took a world-class save from Jordan Pickford to thwart the chance, but it caused alarm bells to ring for the England defence.
Up against Benjamin Pavard, Perišić will fancy his chances to get around the Frenchman and into dangerous areas. While the Stuttgart defender has been one of the tournament’s breakthrough stars, he has looked nervous when up against an attacker in a one-on-one situation.
Pavard is naturally more of a centre back but is being played on the flank due to Djibril Sidibé’s ankle injury that is forcing him out of the team. Like any good attacker, Perišić will smell that fear from Pavard and will consistently try to break him down. Perišić is 9/1 to repeat his heroics in the semi final and get on the scoresheet in the final.
Croatia have done remarkably well to get their first ever World Cup final, but France’s dominance in most areas of the pitch should be overwhelming.
While the players from the eastern European country appeared to be more fired up against England when asked about their fatigue after playing two extra time matches previous, one would imagine that with three 120 minute games in their legs, there is only so much the human body can take.
There is no doubt about it that Croats are fighters and will leave their soul on that pitch for the cause, but France’s game plan will become obvious: they will attempt to dominate possession through N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba, making Croatia run, run and run some more. If they constantly get their opposition moving side to side, the adrenaline will soon fade away and gaping holes will start to appear.
Deschamps also has a world-class bench to choose from in the likes of Nabil Fékir, Ousmane Dembélé, Thomas Lemar, Corentin Tolisso among others. While Croatia do have players that will turn up for the occasion, they simply do not possess the same quality on the ball.
With the way France have opened up teams such as Uruguay and Belgium, they should find it easier to get in-and-around a tired-looking Croatia defence - especially as the game goes on. Croatia are not to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination, but with Antoine Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappé on the pitch, France will carve through their opposition and chances will be created.
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