France take on Croatia as favourites in the 2018 World Cup final

Last updated: July 14, 2018 by Leon Marshal

Game details

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Kick-off: Sunday, 16:00pm
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium
Coverage: BBC
Home Team Form: WDWWW
Away Team Form: WWDDD
Last Meeting: France 0 – 0 Croatia
Competition: FIFA World Cup

After all that, for two teams, it boils down to one game. For France and Croatia there is now just one game separating each from lifting the trophy. France head into the match as big favourites, but as England recently found out, Croatia should not be underestimated.

What a World Cup it has been. It’s had it all, from great goals and shock results to an unexpected semi-final run from England. But now just two teams remain to battle it out, France and Croatia. France have improved on their quarter-final finish last time and are in their second final in twenty years. Croatia have never made it to a final before, with their best finish a semi-final back in 1998 where they were, ironically, eliminated by France, who went on to lift the trophy.

Will we see a repeat of that result? The bookies certainly think France will win and for good reason. Les Bleus have been criticised by some as playing rather dull, un-inventive football, but France are starting to look like the sum of their incredibly talented individual parts and have picked up pace through this tournament. Having seen off Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium already in the knock-out stage, France will be supremely confident of another win. And why not? No-one has looked as solid, as assured as this French team, who seem to finally have found the ability to switch seamlessly through the gears.

That solidity starts at the back, where Hugo Lloris has been outstanding and the two central defenders, Varane and Umtiti, look assured at all times. Much credit too should go to Paul Pogba, who has answered his critics with a string of strong performances in midfield. Kylian Mbappé, while hardly an unknown heading into the World Cup, has proved that he can do it on the big stage too. The youngster brings an extra outlet to France, with his blistering pace causing opponents all manner of problems so far. It’s likely that once again his runs down the right flank will be a feature of France’s play, as they look to exploit possible fatigue among the Croatia ranks. But no France player should be excluded from praise. Somewhat lesser known players, such as Benjamin Pavard, have emerged to be contenders for stand-out performers, while the big names, such as Griezmann, have all gone about their business well.

Via their third bout of extra-time in succession, Croatia emerged victorious against England on Wednesday night, despite going a goal down early on in the game. Croatia were tipped by many to do well after their impressive group stage performances, but reaching a final was still beyond the expectations of most.

Looking at the team, especially the midfield, it’s easy to see why they have done so well. Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić have been fantastic all tournament and how they play will be central to Croatia’s success. But while those two had it fairly easy against England, that will likely not be the case here. In fact, the battle to rule the middle of the park between those two and France’s midfield duo of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté will not only be a fascinating affair, but also key to who emerges victorious here. No-one in the world can dictate the pace of a game like Modrić, but he will simply not have the time on the ball to do so as he did against England. But, so gifted a player he is, it’s likely the maestro will still find a way to control proceedings.

England had hoped Croatia might suffer from fatigue with their previous two games heading into extra time and penalties, but tiredness was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Croatia looked hungrier and fitter than England. Expect that again here as this is the team’s first ever World Cup final and the players will leave nothing on the pitch. Nevertheless, Croatia have been forced to play a lot more football than France and that could become a factor the longer the game goes on. There may be a few injury issues as well, as Mario Mandžukić suffered a heavy knock late on in Wednesday’s game. He was able to continue and even score the winning goal, but Ivan Strinić was substituted due to an injury, so Zlatko Dalić will be sweating on the fitness of both.

Team News

Les Bleus were criticised by a few of Belgium’s players as playing anti-football, but it’s unlikely that Deschamps will tinker with his winning formula.

Olivier Girioud, while famously not having a shot on goal despite playing as a striker, should start, with his selfless play vital to bringing his teammates into the game.

Croatia have many more injury and fitness concerns though. Mario Mandžukić suffered a heavy knock but continued to play against England so should be fit to start.

Strinic will be the biggest concern for Croatia after going off with an injury against England.

Expected Line-Ups:

France (4-3-3): Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernández, Kanté, Pogba, Mbappé, Griezmann, Giroud
Subs: Kimpembe, Lemar, Dembélé, Tolisso, N’Zonzi, Mandanda, Rami, Sidibe, Fekir, Thauvin, Mendy, Areola
Not available:
Croatia (4-2-3-1): Subasic, Vrsalijko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Modric, Rakitic, Rebic, Kramaric, Perisic, Mandzukic
Subs: Livakovic, Corluka, Kovacic, Brozovic, L Kalinic, Jedvaj, Bradaric, Caleta-Car, Badelj, Pjaca, Pivaric
Not available:

Head to Head

Last 5 Competitive Meetings Between The Sides
Date Game Result Round First Goal-scorer
29/11/2011 France 0 – 0 Croatia International Friendly
17/06/2004 Croatia 2 – 2 France UEFA European Championship Tudor OG 22′
28/05/2000 Croatia 0 – 2 France International Friendly Pires 23′
13/11/1999 France 3 – 0 Croatia International Friendly Pires 46′
08/07/1998 France 2 – 1 Croatia FIFA World Cup Kovac 5′

Conclusion & Betting Tips

As we said above, France are clear favourites at the bookies. We agree with this and it’s somewhat difficult to see France not lifting the trophy. There is a chance they could crack under the pressure, just like they did at the last EUROs, but we think the players will use that final defeat as a motivating factor rather than it piling on pressure.

But it certainly won’t be easy. If France perform even a touch under their best then Croatia will be there to exploit the mistakes. Either way, with France playing so solidly and Croatia looking to keep things tight, we can’t see this being a classic featuring many goals. All of Croatia’s knock-out games have featured under 2.5 goals and we see that happening again here. If you want to up the odds, go with a France win plus under 2.5 goals, or to keep it safe, under 2.5 goals as a single. You can these and many other special bets at Coral.