Croatia and France will face off in the World Cup Final this Sunday. This tournament has been a fascinating one to say the least.
France were frontrunners coming into the tournament, even with the second youngest side, only behind Nigeria in average age. Kylian Mbappe has been a star at 19 years old. His pace caught the eyes of many, but his ability to read the game is world class as well.
Les Bleus also had the more challenging side of the bracket. Their path to the final was through Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium. They played in a goals fest versus Messi and Argentina, but then had to switch to a more defensive approach against Uruguay and Belgium.
France has not allowed a goal since their first knockout game, thanks to the superb play of captain Hugo Lloris. I said before this tournament that his veteran presence to lead this young team would be crucial, and he has been unstoppable between the posts.
France’s success has to do with its stacked midfield and pace in the counter attack. Kante is the defensive minded powerhouse that can win the ball, and distribute passes up field. Paul Pogba has been a quiet center piece to France. His ability to play box to box, and maintain possession has been essential. Finally, Antoine Griezmann and Mbappe have been the stars in attack.
On the other hand, Croatia has taken the road less traveled to the final. They were featured on the “weaker” side of the bracket, and had to go through Denmark, Russia, and England, to earn a spot in the final. All of their matches have gone to extra, and two of them went to penalties. Everyone will say they enter the final with heavy legs, but I’m not putting anything past this team.
The midfield has been the show for the Croatians. Captain Luka Modric has orchestrated the team, and Ivan Rakitic has been his supporting piece as Vice-Captain. Ivan Perisic rounds out the stacked midfield, and has been threat in the attack, whether that be creating or scoring goals.
However, this team is not as well-rounded as France. Their defense is solid with their best assets being goalie, Danijel Subasic, and fullback Sime Vrsaljko (go ahead and try to pronounce those names). Liverpool fans will know that Dejan Lovren can be liability, but he has been a rock in the past games.
The weakest point of this team is in the striker department, but they have proved their worth. Mario Mandzukic doesn’t have the speed and legs he used to, but when given an opportunity to score, he’ll take it. Ante Rebic has been a pleasant surprise for Croatian fans, as well.
To most, this game may seem like a clear blowout for France, as they have been the best team this tournament and passed every test. However, they have not nearly dealt with as much adversity as Croatia. The Blazers have lived up to their nickname, by not only grinding out 90-minute matches, but 120-minute battles. They have broken the hearts of the hosts and the original creators of soccer, England. This team did not make it this far to lay down in the final.
Personally, I am rooting for Croatia to win since it would be their first World Cup trophy. This is most likely their best opportunity to capture the crown since they are an older veteran team. On the other hand, this young and speedy French team has a unique opportunity to be a dominant team for years to come.
Overall, this should be a low scoring affair. Most soccer finals are, since neither team wants to be exposed and “play it safe”. My heart wants to Luka Modric and company lift soccer’s best prize, but my brain says France should be able to handle the Croatians.
Final Prediction: 2-1 France
Jake Adams is an opinion columnist. Reach him at [email protected]