The Final Two: Croatia vs France

 

 

Croatia

Croatia is in their first ever World Cup final after declaring themselves independent from Yugoslavia in 1991 with a population of just 4 million people. They have been named the dark horse of the tournament by shocking the world after their 2-1 victory against England and what a Cinderella story it has been so far. Since declaring their independence they have been to the World Cup five different times (1998, 2002, 2006, 2014, and 2018) and in their first World Cup appearance in 1998, they reach the semi-final against who they will be meeting up on Sunday, France losing 2-1. After that amazing run, Croatia hasn’t been able to get to that same spot as they have been knocked out of the group stage since then. Four years ago in Brazil, Croatia had a similar squad in comparison of this year’s World Cup but wasn’t able to get out of the group stage by losing to Brazil and Mexico to the same final score 3-1.

Since then, some of their key players have made some huge impacts at the club level as Luka Modric made history in becoming the first club to win 3 Champions League trophies in a row. While Ivan Rakitic made a huge move from Sevilla to Barcelona and won the treble in his first season in becoming the first European team in winning it twice. The two goal scorers in Wednesday’s game against England, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic, have made signings to Italian giants where Mandzukic lost in the Champions League final against Real Madrid, but still managed to win 2 domestic titles.

Before coming into World Cup, Croatia’s chances were 28 to 1 but now after Rakitic’s 2 game winning penalty kicks, Luka Modric’s unbelievable 39.1 miles in the World Cup, Ivan Perisic first goal against England, and Mandzukic game winner has made those doubters to believers. Give credit to Croatia as they haven’t had a sense of defeat since being in the World Cup beating every opponent in their group in Argentina, Nigeria, and Iceland. Since entering the knockout stage Croatia hasn’t won a game in the first 90 minutes as they won the first 2 games in a penalty shootout and beating England in extra time. Sounds Familiar? It is.  Portugal was able to beat out France in the Euro 2016 final while struggling to beat any of their opponents in the first 90 minutes and still managed to beat France in extra time 1-0. Croatia will be hoping they can accomplish the same as the odds are not in their favor. Croatia is the underdogs as they have been all tournament and are a +360 for the World Cup final meaning if you place $100 you have the possibility to win $360 while a draw in regulation will return to +230. Whatever happens on Sunday, Croatia should be proud of what they have accomplished so far but will hope to insert their first star on top of the shirts.

 

France

Les Bleus have made an impressive 2 final appearances in just the last two years after unfortunately losing to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final 1-0 and will now be meeting Croatia in the World Cup final this Sunday. The last time a French squad was able to recreate such an amazing accomplishment was in 1998 after they won the World Cup and went to win the European Cup after Trezeguet scored a golden goal in extra time against Italy. That squad was full of legends with Patrick Viera, Zinedine Zidane, David Trezeguet, Thierry Henry, Fabian Barthez, Robert Pires, Lilian Thuram, and Laurent Blanc. During that incredible World Cup win in 1998, Thuram scored his only 2 goals for his nation in a 2-1 win against Croatia and had an astonishing performance from Zidane in where he scored 2 headers to give France their very first world cup with a 3-0 victory against Brazil’s Ronaldo. What an era that was as only West Germany and Spain have been able to recreate such an accomplishment. However, that was the end of that era as France bowed out of the 2002 becoming part of the ‘Champions Curse‘ meaning that the winner of the previous World Cup usually gets eliminated in the group stage in the upcoming World Cup. The French team had a horrific tournament in defending their title as they didn’t record any wins tying against Uruguay while losing against Senegal and Denmark. It only took France 8 years to come back to a familiar position as they made it to 2006 final with some familiar faces of those who had won it in 1998 as Barthez, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Zidane, Thuram, and David Trezeguet were all part of an unlikely journey to the final. After being eliminated 4 years prior to the tournament no one expected to see France in the World Cup final as they were some skepticism in Raymond Domenech squad selection choice. However, they proved the world wrong and played some extraordinary soccer led by the legendary Zidane who was playing in his last world cup and was a force to be reckoned. The French team beat out the likes of Spain, Brazil, and Portugal to make it to the final, but unfortunately fell short and lost in penalty kicks. Zinedine Zidane took the spotlight from the Italians as he headbutts Marco Materazzi in the 110th minute that led to a red card in which became his last game played ever and became one of the saddest moments in World Cup history watching this legendary player walk out next to the World Cup. Since then the French team has struggled to reach that level as tragedy occurred in the 2010 World Cup as players were fighting with coaches that led to them being eliminated in the group stage and in 2014 they were eliminated by the World Cup winners, Germany. Now, France is back to being dominant playing with an amazing flair for their game. They possess a lot of threats as they can defend, counterattack, and keep possession of the ball as they have shown throughout this whole tournament. Players such as Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, Kante, and Umtiti have created a new era for France and will be hoping to give the French people their second World Cup. Mbappe has been the player of the tournament so far for France making his presence known with his fast pace and dribbling skills to every opponent he has faced so far. The French people will be hoping they can see more of Mbappe and Griezmann connecting as Griezmann has been involved in France’s last 20 goals scored in major tournaments.  The betting odds are in favor of France as they are the favorites to win. The over-under for the final is 2 goals and France is -110 meaning that if you place $100 one is able to win $90. Whatever occurs on Sunday one can say we will be seeing more of this French squad in the future. 

 

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