The Croatians broke English hearts, in the semi-final. John Newsome assesses their chances, against the mighty French.
WORLD CUP FINAL
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FRANCE v CROATIA
On Sunday afternoon, after 1 month of top quality football, France will meet Croatia in a quite unexpected World Cup final.
In the semi-final, France beat Belgium 1-0. The game was level at half-time in a cagey encounter without anyone troubling the scoresheet. Six minutes into the second-half Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti rose to an Antoine Griezmann corner and headed the ball past the helpless Thibaut Courtois. France then game-managed the contest exquisitely and ran the clock down knowing that if they didn’t concede to Belgium they would be in their 1st World Cup Final since 2006 in which they lost on penalties to Italy. In that final, French Legend Zinedine Zidane was inexplicably sent off for an head butt on Marco Materazzi. Zidane and Materazzi were running side-by-side of each other and after a brief exchange of words, when Materazzi was seen tugging at Zidane’s shirt, Zidane suddenly stopped, turned around and head butted Materazzi’s chest, knocking him to the ground. A sad end to a superb career. Zizu was unable to take a penalty in the shootout and subsequently France lost. Who knows whether the head butt caused France to lose but they did and now 12 years later will be wanting to exorcise that particular ghost against a resilient Croatia. Les Bleus have some outstanding players in young defender Raphael Varane, as well as Big Sam. In midfield, Paul Pogba and N’golo Kante have been superb, Paul showing why he was bought for €90 Million. He now needs to show the Manchester faithful the same. Superstar Kylian Mbappe has shown why so many clubs want him and Paris Saint Germain will be keen to hold onto him. Antoine Griezmann supplies the goals and assists with his wand of a left foot which rivals Messi’s left-peg. A surprise to most is the excellent play of Olivier Giroud. The ex-Arsenal star currently playing for Chelsea, hasn’t scored and hasn’t even had a shot on goal, yet has been superb showing his discipline to the team cause.
Croatia played England in the other Semi-Final. After initially going behind to a Kieren Trippier free-kick, they prevented England from scoring the all important 2nd goal and slowly came into the game. The Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic did a number on England’s back 3 and played 3 attackers. Mário Mandzukic, Ante Rebic and Manchester United target Ivan Perisic were instrumental in carrying out Zlatko’s tactics. They pressed England’s defence which caused England to revert to type and hoof the ball long, which is not what got them to the Semi-finals. A little bit of composure from the Three Lions may have resulted in a different score. Ultimately Croatia were too good and the majestic Luka Modric controlled the play. Luka knew that he didn’t have the legs to run for 90 minutes and subsequently 30 minutes extra-time so he played in spurts and managed his play to perfection. It was feared Croatia would tire, however, the opposite happened against England and Croatia got stronger and England weakened. All in all Croatia were deserved winners and booked their place in their 1st World Cup Final for a nation who have little more then 4 Million residents. Smaller then Scotland. They are a small country with a massive heart and play like lions.
Since France played their game 1 day earlier, Les Bleus may be more rested, especially after Croatia’s extra time struggle’s, however, don’t let that fool you into thinking they will be tired. They just may be getting stronger and stronger.
Croatia have won all 6 games so far, admittedly 2 on penalties, while France drew the dead rubber group game with Denmark. When it comes to head to head performance, both teams haven’t played since 2011 and that friendly game finished 0-0. The 2 teams have World Cup history, when France held the competition in 1998, they met Croatia in a spectacular Semi-Final. Croatian legend and former West Ham boss Slaven Bilic, currently giving his views on ITV, famously went down holding his face in the game, leading to the dismissal of France legend Laurent Blanc.
Larry White as Blanc is affectionately known missed the biggest game of his life, the World Cup final in his home country because Bilic feigned injury. Mr Blanc will, not only want France to win the World Cup, but also see Les Bleus hammer Croatia and see Mr Bilic cry into his Croatian beer.
Didier Deschamps men should be too strong for the excellent Croats.
France Win 1-0
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