World Cup Final Preview – France vs. Croatia Prediction
It all comes down to this. With 30 teams having been eliminated, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will come down to France vs. Croatia in the highly-anticipated Final. The path to Moscow had some sharp turns and unexpected twists along the way. While most believed France entered the tournament as one of the odds-on favorites, you’d be lying if you claimed you picked Croatia to get this far.
Croatia’s roster is laden with experienced, world-class talent, but you could say the same for at least another half-dozen teams that entered the tournament. Manager Zlatko Dalic has done an admirable job in getting the very most out of his players to this point, and now the Croats have a chance to lift the World Cup trophy for the first time ever. By getting this far, Croatia is already the second-smallest nation to ever appear in a World Cup Final. Only Uruguay, who have won twice in the past, is smaller.
France will be appearing in the Final for the first time since 2002, and they will be looking to win it for the first time since 1998, when they did so as host nation. Les Bleus are unbeaten thus far at the World Cup, with 5 wins and a draw through their first 6 matches. The lone blemish was an unremarkable scoreless draw against Denmark in the final game of group stage play.
The unquestioned breakthrough performer at the tournament to this point has been French attacker Kylian Mbappe. The 19-year-old Paris St. Germain product already has 3 goals to his name, and he has proven to be quite the miserable player to try and mark for opposing defenders. Mbappe may well be the fastest player in Russia, and he has almost single-handedly diced through opposing defenses with regularity.
It will be interesting to see how physical the Croatian back line opts to play Mbappe. Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida are bullies defensively, but obviously neither has the pace to keep up with the young Frenchman.
France have seemingly gotten better as the World Cup has progressed. They weren’t particularly convincing during the group stage, but they still got enough positive results to see their way through. Their dismantling of the Argentina defense in the round of 16 put everyone on notice, and they have gotten past Uruguay and Belgium in impressive fashion to make it all the way to the Final.
Croatia’s path hasn’t been nearly as breezy, of course. An impressive 3-0-0 record during the group stage put them on the map, but they have needed 120 minutes to get past Denmark, Russia and England in their last 3 games. At this point, it’s fair to wonder just how much the players have left in the tank. Adrenaline may be enough to carry them early in the match, but even that figures to wane eventually.
These 2 teams have combined to allow just 9 goals at this World Cup, 3 of which came by Argentina against France in their aforementioned round of 16 shootout. That said, Croatia have not been able to keep a clean sheet since the knockout stages began. Considering France have not been forced to play any extra time at this World Cup, their back line figures to have more stamina than that of Croatia at this point.
With all of the pace in the French side, how will Croatia keep up? In addition to Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba can provide plenty of pace, as well. Croatia’s primary strength lies in midfield with cagey veterans like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, but one could argue France have just as much talent with Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante on the other side.
Croatia have proven to be a fabulous story and a worthy finalist, but it’s hard to imagine how they can keep this up. At some point, the grind of playing a full 90 minutes worth of extra time in their last 3 matches has to catch up with them. Could they get through another match with just enough steam to accomplish their ultimate goal? It’s certainly possible, but it’s also worth noting that France will be easily the best side Dalic’s team will have faced to this point.
There is essentially no betting value to taking France to win at -110 here, but it looks like a pretty safe bet. The over/under on 2 goals looks attackable, however. Croatia’s tired legs in addition to France’s firepower could result in a fairly high-scoring affair here. A 3-1 win (or something similar) to France seems like a reasonable prognostication, so I’m cool with hitting the over on 2 goals to be scored at +101 odds.
As much as I’d love to see a new champion like Croatia emerge, this match is clearly France’s to lose. Head coach Didier Deschamps was the captain of the French side that won it all back in 1998, and he will have the chance to become one of the few to win this competition both as a player and as a manager. Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer are the only 2 to have accomplished the feat in the past.
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