After 62 games, the 2018 World Cup is down to its final two teams: France and Croatia. They’ve traveled different roads to Luzhniki Stadium in…
After 62 games, the 2018 World Cup is down to its final two teams: France and Croatia. They’ve traveled different roads to Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, but both are deserving of a shot at the Cup on Sunday. Here are five storylines to pay attention to heading into the final.
France should’ve won the Euro 2016 final against Portugal easily. Instead, they lost a dreadful game 1-0 in front of their home crowd. That’s one of the main reasons they weren’t favorites coming into this tournament despite having one of the world’s deepest rosters. Now’s their chance to set the record straight.
After losing 1-0 to France in the first semifinal, Belgium’s captain Eden Hazard and keeper Thibaut Courtois made clear what they thought of their opponents, accusing them of playing “anti-[soccer].” Did France play overly defensive? No, a team that features the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba basically can’t. But once they got their goal, they made shutting down Belgium their priority, only attacking when there were clear openings. That’s not anti-soccer, that’s smart soccer with the chance at the final on the line.
Coming into the tournament, France’s biggest weakness was thought to be the man on the sidelines, manager Didier Deschamps. And while he hasn’t exactly swayed his naysayers yet, he’s quietly had a fine tournament — especially against Belgium when he got his tactics exactly right. Now he has the chance to guide his country to its second World Cup, the first having come in 1998 when he was the team’s captain.
Three straight comebacks, three straight extra time games. After beating Russia on penalty kicks Saturday afternoon, it looked as if Croatia would be lucky to even be standing at the end of its semifinal with England. Instead, Ivan Perisic’s phenomenal second-half equalizer inspired his team to a victory where they looked like the fresher side for much of the latter stages of the game. Croatia may not be the most talented side in the world, or even the second most, but you definitely can’t count them out.
France will enter the final clear favorites — and would even if Croatia hadn’t played 360 minutes across its last three matches. But if this World Cup has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is a sure bet. Just ask Germany, Spain and Brazil.