The greatest spectacle in global football, the finals of the 2018 World Cup is set to see France and Croatia battle in what is expected to be a spell-binding confluence of power, technical skill and flair. The match promises to enthral the fans and the neutrals alike.
France head into this match as the favourites. The Les Blues had one of the strongest squads and were a favourite before the tournament. Coach Didier Deschamps will hope to claim the grand prize at the end, unlike the Euro 2016 final.
Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud are expected to lead the line for the French but all the attention will be on break-out star Kylian Mbappe, who’ll complete the attacking trident. The 19-year-old has pace coupled with athleticism and will definitely trouble the Croatian defenders.
Greizmann, Atletico Madrid’s idol and France’s number seven, also has the onus on him to create chances for the onrushing attackers to take advantage of.
Big pressure is on the former Arsenal man Giroud who has not had a shot on target in 453 minutes of football, a tournament record.
Midfield is packed with steel in the form of powerhouses Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, both of whom are expected to make their presences felt. Sitting in the middle of the park is also the industrious N’Golo Kante.
In defence, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti are expected to man the fort. If Varane plays, he’ll become the fifth French player to have played in both the Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year, after Thierry Henry (2006), Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Christian Karembeu (all 1998).
Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are expected to play in the full-back positions.
Croatia canter into this tie with a significant record hanging over their heads. They progressed from their three knockout matches at the 2018 World Cup via either extra-time or penalties – no team has ever played extra-time in four different matches at a single World Cup. The others to play in three extra-time matches are Belgium (1986), England (1990) and Argentina (2014).
Yet, Zlatko Dalic’s team have shown they are unfazed by such observations and count on their determination to carry them through games.
Danijel Subasic will start in goal. Ahead of him, Domagoj Vida and Dejan Lovren will be tasked with containing the crafty French, aided by Sime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinic on the left and right sides of defence.
Luka Modric, the persistent thrust from the middle of the park and a malignant pain point for the opposition, is expected to spin a web around France. He will be aided by the unrelenting Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic.
The widemen - Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic - will have a crucial role to play. The former has been involved in 10 goals at major tournaments for Croatia (6 goals, 4 assists), the joint-most along with Davor Suker (9 goals, 1 assist).
Mario Mandzukic is expected to lead the line for the Vatreni. His aerial threat and power are expected to trouble the French and it will be interesting to see if the French mechanism, which kept Romelu Lukaku quiet in the semi-finals, will work this time around.
Croatia have reached their first World Cup final, becoming the 13th different nation and 10th European country to do so.
France, meanwhile, have reached their third World Cup final, winning one (1998) and losing the other on penalties (2006). Their three appearances in finals since 1998 is also more than any other team over the last 20 years, ahead of Brazil and Germany (2).
Also to note, Didier Deschamps is looking to become the third person to win the World Cup as a player and as manager after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer.
With the best offering from Joga Bonito’s quintessential tournament on the exhibition anvil, many heartbeats and footsteps are expected to be skipped in anticipation. French will seek to erase the bitterness from the last tournament while Croatia will seek to welcome the cup home for the first time.
Redemption or revelation – a humdinger of a final awaits us and we just cannot wait for it. Kick-off at 11:00 PM Malaysia Time from the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow.