After 63 matches, 32 days, a near-beer shortage, and a whole lot of gabbing from the Fox Sports commentary crews, we’ve finally arrived at the ultimate World Cup event: the final. France faces Croatia — who are the second smallest nation by population (behind Uruguay) to ever reach a final — on Sunday in Moscow at 11am ET.
Let’s take a closer look at the match, which is estimated to be watched by close a billion total people across the globe.
Who’s the favorite?
France is clearly the favorite. They have won the World Cup once before — in 1998, when they happened to beat Croatia in the semi-final — and they came through the tougher side of the last 16 bracket, beating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium. Add to that the fact that France has a team of world-class superstars with plenty of big game experience, and Croatia has had to play three consecutive, grueling extra-time matches in a row.
What’s the key matchup?
Croatia’s midfield duo of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić are at the heart of the team’s attack, and France will need to keep them quiet. They have just the player to do so in tireless defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté, who is perhaps the world’s best stopper. His experience at shutting down players in the Premier League for his club team Chelsea will prove valuable. If France allows Modrić and Rakitić time on the ball, they could be in trouble.
Who will score the goals?
Croatia’s Mario Mandžukić and Ivan Perišić have a knack for finding space around the goal and poaching goals. That ability was never on better display than against England in the semi-final, when they teamed up for the winning strike. For France, it’s teenage star Kylian Mbappé and forward Antoine Griezmann most likely to do the damage. They are the opposite of Croatia’s pair, using craft, speed and guile to get open.
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) July 11, 2018
What are each team’s biggest weakness?
For Croatia, the answer to this one is simple: exhaustion. They have played three 120 minute, high-pressure games, a full 90 minutes more than France. They also, due to the way the schedule fell, have one less day of rest than France. Both of those things are likely to work against them on Sunday, despite the fact that they have incredible momentum and have put in three of the best team performances the World Cup has ever seen.
France doesn’t have many weaknesses on paper. From top to bottom, they have world class stars, and no shortage of talent to bring off the bench. The one weakness may be their defender, Benjamin Pavard. He’s only 22 years-old and has not played in many big games for his club or country. If Croatia can find a way to exploit his inexperience, they may have a chance.
OK, enough with all that, who’s going to win?
A Croatia win would be a wonderful fairytale, given the country only became an independent nation in 1991 and has a population of only 4.2 million (compared to about 67 million for France), but I’m afraid the team has emptied the tanks getting to the final and will run out of gas by the second half on Sunday. Prediction: France 3, Croatia 1.
What are you going to do now that the World Cup is over?
That’s one question I don’t have answer to. But, I do know the Premier League season starts in just 27 days, so maybe I’ll just watch a little MLS until then.
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