Breaking Down the Results of the Top 3 World Cup Finishers
If this hasn’t been the most unpredictable World Cup in history, it can’t be far off. The biggest event on the FIFA calendar has more than lived up to the hype thus far. We have seen a number of standout individual performances, massive upsets and no shortage of goals throughout the 2018 tournament. Unfortunately, the end is in sight.
It all comes to a close this Sunday when France will take on Cinderella story Croatia in the Final. On Saturday, we’ll have the third-place game between Belgium and England, a rematch of a Group G tie in which the Red Devils picked up a 1-0 victory late last month. While most will be looking forward to Sunday’s Final, the third-place game should bring a little bit of intrigue if both teams actually play to win.
This will be the final round of World Cup action until 2022 when the tournament shifts to Qatar, so be sure to make the most of it while it’s still going on. What’s going to happen this weekend? Let’s break it down.
The Honor of Finishing Third
The fact that the third place game exists in the first place is a bit strange considering both involved teams will surely still be smarting after having missed out on the chance to play in the Final, but we know FIFA likes making money. Without much else on the sports calendar during the long summer months, why not have an extra game to capture a few eyeballs on a Saturday afternoon?
Of course, the third place game rarely comes with all that much drama. Does anybody even remember the 2014 game that pitted a sorely disappointing Brazil squad against the Netherlands? I remember watching a ton of that World Cup, yet any memory of the third-place game eludes me. A quick Google search tells me that the Dutch picked up an easy 3-0 win over Brazil. Considering Brazil were the host nation fresh off a 7-1 thumping at the hands of Germany, it’s no surprise that they failed to show up for what was an essentially meaningless bronze medal match.
Belgium were picked by many to come away with a victory over France in the semifinal, but it was not to be. Roberto Martinez’ men were unable to recover from a Samuel Umtiti header in the second half to find a goal of their own despite dictating the pace of the game for much of the 90 minutes. Instead, Belgium’s “golden generation” will have to wait another 4 years for potential glory.
England, meanwhile, were also favored to win despite the fact that almost nobody outside of the United Kingdom would have picked the Three Lions to get as far as the semifinal. A fifth-minute screamer from Kieran Tripper put England up, and they were in control for much of the first half. Croatia, who looked exhausted early on, somehow found a second wind during the match’s latter stages, and they were clearly the better side throughout most of the match. An Ivan Perisic goal leveled things in the 68th minute before Mario Mandzukic found what was ultimately the winner for the Croats deep into extra time.
With very little on the line, one would imagine both Martinez and England manager Gareth Southgate will use the third-place game to give some minutes to players that didn’t feature much during the previous stages of this World Cup. England are facing some injury issues, with Trippier, Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker all in doubt to suit up on Saturday. Players like goalkeeper Jack Butland as well as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford and Fabian Delph may be in line to start ahead of some of the team’s starting XI stalwarts.
Belgium aren’t facing as many injury question marks as their opponents, but it’s safe to say that some of the team’s bigger names will likely get the day off in order to start preparing for the upcoming club season, which begins again next month. So, seeing the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku playing in anything other than a potential second-half cameo role would be a surprise.
Frankly, this game might wind up looking an awful lot like the match these teams played in the group stage. That game came with some interesting ramifications. The winner of the game would win Group G, but they would be thrust into the more difficult half of the bracket that also included sides like France, Brazil, Uruguay and (potentially) Germany. The loser went to the “easier” side featuring Colombia, Russia and Denmark. In the end, Belgium won thanks to an Adnan Januzaj goal in a game that featured plenty of backups. Januzaj figures to draw another start for the Red Devils in the consolation game.
The odds say that Belgium are favored at +125 on the moneyline, with England checking in at +210. A regular time draw is tipped at +230. With so little on the line, the third-place game can actually be fairly fun with both teams generally unafraid to make crippling mistakes. That will typically lead to a more open game, which means there should be plenty of scoring. The over/under is set at 3.
Even with lineups largely featuring reserves, these are still talented sides. Players like Alexander-Arnold, Janzuaj, Michy Batshuayi and Jamie Vardy would easily start for a host of other teams that participated in this World Cup. I’m expecting this to be a fun one with both sides hopefully having gotten over the dejection of faltering in the semifinal.
The smart money is on Belgium, so I’ll side with the Red Devils here at +125. I think the over on 3 goals also looks nice as both teams should be happy to play an open game here.
This isn’t the matchup most expected to see in a World Cup Final, but it should be a fun one. Few will be surprised to see France here. Didier Deschamps’ side made it all the way to the Final of the Euro 2016 tournament. They lost to Portugal in that one, but the French will be looking to bounce back and lift soccer’s most prestigious prize on Sunday in Moscow. Les Bleus will be opposed by a hungry Croatia side almost nobody expected to advance this far.
The primary factor in this one could be fatigue. France will have had an extra day off in the build-up to the Final. The French have gotten past a tougher series of opponents (Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium), but they were able to pick up wins in all those games in regulation. Croatia, on the other hand, have had to play 120 minutes in 3 consecutive games, 2 of which were decided on penalty kicks. The Croatian side looked rather fatigued during parts of the England match. They will be able to feed off of the adrenaline of playing in the Final of a major tournament, but will it be enough to carry them throughout another match?
France are the heavy favorites here at -110. You won’t often see a team in a World Cup Final favored so heavily, but France have a deeper squad with more world-class talent in addition to the potential fatigue factor hampering Croatia.
If one thing is for certain, though, you can’t count the Croatian side out. Manager Zlatko Dalic has rallied his team through some tough circumstances to get this far, and you can bet Croatia aren’t just happy to be here. They are here to win the whole thing. While France do have more on-paper talent, it’s not like Croatia is fielding a team of amateurs. This team has players from Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Inter Milan and a host of other representatives from the most prestigious clubs on the planet.
The Croatian defense has been a tough nut to crack, but this French attack will be their most daunting task to date. Kylian Mbappe, who has arguably been this World Cup’s breakthrough performer thus far, has been hellacious in terms of knifing through opposing defenses with relative ease. Burly, slow-footed central defenders are no match for the 19-year-old’s insane combination of pace and physicality.
This game will likely be won in the midfield, which is were most of the talent lies. With Mbappe supplying plenty going forward down the flank, France have also been sturdy defensively thanks to the human wall known as N’Golo Kante. The Chelsea man continues to be one of the more unheralded difference-makers in world football. Defensive midfielders certainly aren’t in it for the glory, but Kante has once again emerged as the backbone of the French squad.
Everything with Croatia begins with the midfield tandem of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Modric has been incredibly influential thus far, especially with the ball at his feet. When he is able to get forward into advanced positions, he’s able to pull the strings that bring life to Croatia’s attack. Ivan Perisic, who was a terror against England, and Ante Rebic give the team width on the wings.
I was wrong in thinking the tired legs would do Croatia in against England. This Croatia side has been beating the odds since the beginning of the tournament. While I recognize the amazing run they’ve made so far, this French side looks determined to break through and win a World Cup for the first time in 20 years. Croatia have shown us that literally anything can happen, so it’s certainly possible that they still have one more trick up their sleeve to show us on Sunday.
I’ve felt from the beginning that France are one of the teams to beat at this tournament, and I don’t think they’ll be beaten here. Give me France to win at -110.
So, France, Croatia and Belgium will take first, second and third place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.