World Cup Final Preview

World Cup Final

France and Croatia meet in the World Cup final on Sunday in a game that could well be decided by the smallest of margins.

In terms of team news both sides have a few issues.  Croatia are definitely down to 22 players as striker Nikola Kalinic was sensationally sent home after the first group game for refusing to come on as a substitute.  The Croats also have Ivan Perisic and Ivan Strinic listed as doubts but we should probably expect both to play. Winger Perisic has been absolutely crucial in getting his side to the final and will be desperate to be involved, while Strinic was rated as a doubt before the semi-final but still featured.

France have Blaise Matuidi as an injury concern after he came off late on in their last four tie.  The midfielder’s absence was noticeable when he was suspended for the quarter-final against Uruguay, despite the fact 1998 champions won comfortably, and coach Didier Deschamps will be hoping he can pull through.

Les Bleus go into the game as the 1.90 favourites, probably due to the fact they have enjoyed an easier passage through to the final than their opponents.  On paper, France have come up against the stronger sides in the knockout stages but they’ve managed to get this far without needing extra time or penalties, while Croatia have gone the distance in all three of their matches since the group stages ended.

Croatia required shoot-outs to get past both Denmark and Russia before beating England in extra-time and there is the suggestion they may have issues with fatigue on Sunday.  They had to deal with those questions before the last four clash with the Three Lions too but came through that test, finishing the stronger of the two to seal a place in Sunday’s showpiece.

France may have played 90 minutes less than the Croats in total but they have still had some real tests and spent most of their semi-final against Belgium defending and chasing the ball. It means tiredness could be an issue for both teams now we have reached the end of the tournament.

Croatia are the 4.85 underdogs and a draw is 3.25, but there are a few reasons to believe an upset can happen on Sunday.  While France struggled through the group stages but have stepped up a gear since, Croatia were arguably the most impressive team in the opening stages and have been forced to dig deep as the competition has progressed – coming from behind to emerge victorious against Denmark, Russia and England.

The strength Zlatko Dalic’s men have shown to fight back in all three of their knockout games has been impressive, and that will to win cannot be ignored despite the fact they’ve spent far more time on the pitch than France ahead of the final.

Match Result Draw @ 3.25

World Cup finals are traditionally tight affairs and only three of the last 11 have been decided by more than one goal – a run stretching back 44 years.  The last three have all gone to extra time, while just two of the last six have been decided in 90 minutes.

This World Cup has been compelling for a number of reasons. The hope is these two sides will deliver an incredible final to put the icing on the cake at the end of the tournament but with so much at stake, a hard fought battle looks more likely than a free-flowing footballing feast.

France demonstrated their defensive qualities against Belgium, who arguably had the best attack in Russia, and Croatia have been equally solid at the back having conceded just four goals in normal time in six games.  The French came in for criticism from the Belgian squad for sitting back and playing on the counter and they’re likely to adopt a similar approach in the final, although they may throw a bit more caution to the wind going forward as Croatia pose a different attacking threat and always have the option of knocking it up towards the towering Mario Mandzukic.

Croatia’s strength is in midfield with playmakers Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic pulling the strings.  The key for Dalic’s squad will be ensuring those two stars get as much time on the ball as possible but with Paul Pogba and Matuidi, if fit, to call on Les Bleus have players capable of reducing that threat and there is a danger the two sides could cancel each other out.

In Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann France have two forwards who have starred in Russia but both were fairly ineffective against Belgium, as Deschamps’ men needed a Samuel Umtiti goal from a set-piece to squeeze out a win.  Croatia haven’t been overawed by star attackers in previous games, having kept Lionel Messi and Harry Kane quiet, and in Dejan Lovren have one of the world’s best defenders (even if it is a self-proclaimed title).  The Croatians have shown tenacity to get back into games and if they do fall behind may well find an equaliser, and in the standard match betting market a draw looks a strong option at excellent value all things considered.

Exact score 1-1 @ 6.35

The last two World Cup finals have ended goalless after 90 minutes and a 0-0 draw pays out at 6.75, but in terms of the spectacle we can be a tad more optimistic here and a 1-1 draw after normal time looks a strong option.  France have only failed to score once in 90 minutes in Russia so far, in their final group game against Denmark, while Croatia have found the back of the net in every game up to this point.

Croatia to win after penalties @ 11.00

If the match does end in a draw after 90 minutes there’s a good chance a shoot-out will be required to decide the winner and Croatia would have to be the favourites if penalties are needed.  Dalic’s men have twice faced a penalty shoot-out in Russia but France haven’t as yet, and that could be a deciding factor if Sunday’s final does go the full distance.