Who would have thought? After a month of football in Russia, who would have thought that the defending champions will bow out in such unceremonious fashion? That the Argentinians will struggle to make it out of their group? That the Spanish passmasters will be sent packing by the hosts? But here we are, and France and Croatia have survived the madness and unpredictability of this World Cup to reach within one step of reaching the promised land. France, who’ll look to exorcise the demons of their Euro 2016 final loss to Portugal, are the favorites while Croatia, a nation punching above their 4 million population and trying to fulfill the potential of the golden generation, will firmly enter the final with the same belief that has carried them till this stage.
Route to the final
- France began their campaign with two routine victories over Australia and Peru which ensured their progression to the last 16. A drab 0-0 draw followed against Denmark as the two nations fielded weakened teams to rest key players.
- In the round of 16, they faced the struggling Argentinians and the mouth watering tie did not disappoint as it ended 4-3. Dragged by the genius of Lionel Messi and individual quality, they gave France a scare but Kylian Mbappe ran riot to ensure France progress to the quarters.
- In the quarters, an Edinson Cavani-less Uruguay were overcome by a Raphael Varane header and an error from Muslera turned this match into a comfortable 2-0 win for them.
- The semi-final match versus Belgium was touted as the potential decider of the winner of the tournament. A Samuel Umtiti header separated the two sides as the ‘Les bleus’ held on against the spirited Belgians to reach the final.
- A 2-0 victory over Nigeria was followed by the 3-0 obliteration of Argentina, which was a statement of intent of their ambitions. They topped their group with a 2-1 victory over Croatia in their final group stage match.
- 120 minutes of football did not separate Croatia and Denmark as the scores were tied 1-1. Kasper Schmeichel saved a penalty in extra time and the goalkeeping heroics were repeated from both sides in the shootout. However it was Croatia who prevailed in the thrilling shoutout.
- Another intense draw after extra time meant the Croats now went against Russia on penalties after the scoreline read 2-2. Ivan Rakitic repeated his act of converting the penalty which sent them through to the next round of the tournament.
- A Kieran Trippier free-kick at the fifth minute mark shocked Croatians but an Ivan Perisic strike sent the game into extra time. John Stones was caught napping and Mario Mandzukic duly pounced on the opportunity to send Croatia to their first ever FIFA World Cup final.
Our take and prediction
While the Croatians have won the hearts of supporters across the globe, this French team might have too much in the locker for them, especially considering the fact that Croatia will be fighting fatigue as they have played three consecutive games that have gone into extra time while France have wrapped up all of their knockout matches in ninety minutes. However, Croatia have proved everyone wrong time and again this tournament and it will not be an easy ride for France, who will look to avoid repeating the same mistake when they underestimated Portugal two years ago.
Prediction : France 2-1 Croatia