Croatia and France will face off for the biggest prize in football as the two European nations meet in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final today.
France overcame Belgium 1-0 in the semi-finals, with Samuel Umtiti securing a 1-0 victory as the Red Devils were unable to find a way through the dogged defence of Les Bleus.
Didier Deschamps could write his name into the history books by becoming only the third man to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer.
He captained France to their only World Cup victory to date in 1998, and it will be Les Bleus’ third appearance at a World Cup final after their loss to Italy in 2006.
On the challenge Croatia’s midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will pose France at the Luzhniki Stadium, Deschamps said: “Yes, it’s true Croatia has players with strong club experiences and who have reached a level of maturity on the pitch together, but we have met teams with more experience than us all through the tournament.”
Croatia, meanwhile, showed great resolve to battle back from a goal down against England to eventually win 2-1 in extra-time courtesy of a Mario Mandzukic volley. This will be Croatia’s first appearance in a World Cup final and they could become the eighth different country to win the competition.
Coach Zlatko Dalic says his players should be proud of their achievements.
“It is the World Cup final. The players know what that means. One thing that makes me happy is that all my players tell me whether they are not 100 per cent,” he said. “If they will be unable to give their all during the match I expect them to tell us.”
Croatia only has five pitches that meet Uefa’s international standard. The infrastructure is mostly appalling and the investment in grassroots football is basically non-existent.
Talented players are forced to leave their clubs early because of the bad financial situation most Croatian clubs face, which prompts them to sell their prized assets once they hit double-digit caps.
There are just two home-based players in Croatia’s World Cup squad – Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic and Rijeka midfielder Filip Bradaric. Between them they have played less than half an hour in Russia.
Croatia have no major injury concerns despite having played three 120-minute matches.
Dalic said on Saturday: “We have some minor injuries but I hope we will overcome those today and all my players will be ready to play.
“We created such a group where they will concede and will say ‘I have to miss the final’. If they are not ready we have great players on the bench who are rearing to go.”
France also have no injury worries and are likely to stick with the same side that beat Belgium in the semi-finals.
Head to head history
The two nations have met five times, and Croatia have never beaten France.
Their first meeting came at the 1998 World Cup, with Les Bleus winning 2-1 in the semi-finals en route to lifting the famous trophy on home soil.
France then won friendlies in 1999 (3-0) and 2000 (2-0).
However, their last two meetings have ended in draws – a 2-2 draw at Euro 2004, and a goalless stalemate in 2011.
Neither side will have any players suspended for the final, while the French squad has a clean bill of health.
It may be a different matter for Croatia though, with plenty of players feeling the strain after every one of their knockout games has gone to extra time – Ivan Strinic may well be a doubt after limping off with what appeared to be a groin issue in extra time against England.
France and Croatia have faced five times previously, with France winning three of those games (in 1998, 1999 and 2000) and the other two games ending as draws (2004 and 2011).
Two of France and Croatia’s five meetings have been at major tournaments. France won 2-1 against Croatia in the semi-final of the 1998 World Cup – Deschamps playing the full match – while their meeting at Euro 2004 ended in a 2-2 draw in the group stage.
The last three World Cup finals have all gone to extra-time. However, historically, only two of the showpiece games have ever been decided on penalties (1994, 2006).
France have trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds at the 2018 World Cup, while Croatia have been behind in all three of their knockout matches.
Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted 11 goals in nine knockout games at major tournaments (World Cup + Euro), more than any other player for France over the last 50 years ahead of Zinedine Zidane (8) and Michel Platini (6).
France’s Kylian Mbappe will be looking to become only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final after Pele, in 1958. Mbappe (3 goals) is already the highest scoring teenager in a World Cup tournament since Pele (6 in 1958).
France XI: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Lucas, Pogba, Kante, Mbappe, Griezmann, Matuidi, Giroud
Croatia XI: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic, Rakitic, Brozovic, Rebic, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic