1958, 1978, 1998. Brazil, Argentina, France. Every twenty years, a new world champion is crowned. Two decades on, could this be Croatia’s chance?
A month has passed since the World Cup kicked off and only two teams remain with a new champion being crowned less than 24 hours from now. This final is certainly a case of David vs. Goliath. Croatia only became a nation in 1991 with many of the players understanding the struggles of independence and the hardships of seeing a nation be uprooted to have a new one form with their own eyes. This is only the second time the Croats have made it past the group stages, their only other run in the knockouts resulting in a 3rd place finish in 1998.
On home soil, France stood in the way of Croatia’s dream run in 1998 and made it past them to win their maiden World Cup title. France has made the finals three times over the last six World Cups and once again, Croatia stand in their way of calling themselves world champions.
These teams are polar opposites of each other. France are a team that is immensely talented and are expected to play an expansive style of football and they choose to play conservatively. Croatia are a team that are greater than the sum of their parts and dominate possession. Croatia has played an extra game, 90 whole minutes, and two penalty shootouts more than France. Croatia have the ability to dig deep and rally on their tired legs though France has the pace to exploit Croatia. They play incredibly as a team with Rakitic and Modric likely to put on a show. France have the perfect players to match that, Kante and Pogba who have the physical edge and footballing IQ to beat Croatia. This will be a showdown in the middle third. The winner of this game will be decided with by the energy levels of Croatia. There is only so much more that they can take before their legs given in. France should come out on top despite having not played their best in Russia. At 2nd gear they’ve made it to the finals. Defeat to Portugal two summers ago reminds this side that they cannot step into a final and presume that they will come out on top. That along with their fresher legs should ensure a rather comfortable victory for Les Bleus.
Predicted Score: France 2 – 1 Croatia
Golden Ball: N’golo Kante. Barring an Mbappe masterpiece, Kante is the under talked about favorite to win the Golden Ball. He is the embodiment of Deschamps and his philosophy. Defend with heart and intent. Absorb pressure and frustrate your opponent. Forcing turnovers and relentless attacking on the counter. Kante is not a stat stuffer. Much of what he does and how much is valued cannot be found in a box score. He needs to be watched to understand the kind of player he is as his value can be found on the impact he has with the players around him. He makes is teammates better by cleaning up their mistakes and setting them up on the break. He also is relentless and forces opposition players into bad positions and bad decisions. He is the glue that binds his teams and the intangibles he provides are invaluable. He may not be the flashiest player or the one that grabs the headlines, but he is worthy of winning the Golden Ball.