France started out the tournament slowly needing an own goal in the 81st minute to ease by Australia 2-1 in their opener, followed by a tight 1-0 win over Peru that saw Kylian Mbappe score his first ever World Cup goal. France then sealed the group by playing the only nil-nil draw of the tournament against Denmark. As they say, they then started to grow into the tournament with a scintillating 4-3 win over Argentina in the Round of 16 that saw Mbappe scored two goals in a four minute span after drawing the penalty kick for the opening goal to effectively seal the game for France. Les Bleus then dispatched a depleted Uruguay squad 2-0 before beating a very good Belgium team 1-0 in the semi-finals to get to their third World Cup Final in the last 20 years.
Croatia has experienced a dissimilar path to the final. They started the group stage on fire earning nine points from three played with wins over Nigeria (2-0), Argentina (3-0!) and Iceland (2-1) before hitting the knockout stages. The Round of 16 saw Croatia needing 120 minutes and penalties to beat Denmark after finishing 1-1. Then they got the hosts Russia fresh off a surprising upset win over Spain. Regulation ended 1-1 and it was back to extra time for Croatia where they scored the first extra time goal of the tournament and looked to have sealed a semi-final berth before Russia scored in the 115th minute and it was back to penalties where Croatia again prevailed. Croatia then played England in the semi-finals and looked to be out when England scored an early goal in the fifth minute and was controlling most of the match against what surely was a tired Croatia squad. But Croatia battled back and equalized in the second half to become the first team ever to play three extra time matches in World Cup history. This time there were no penalties as Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic scored a 109’ goal that they made stand up to secure their first ever World Cup Final appearance.
World Cup Final
France vs. Croatia
Time: 8:00 AM
Location: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
TV: FOX (English) and Telemundo (Spanish)
Announcing team: John Strong and Stu Holden (English)
In addition to Croatia playing three consecutive extra time matches to get to this point, which amounts to an entire extra game, France has one more day of rest as their semi-final was Tuesday while Croatia played on Wednesday.
The Golden Boot (top goal scorer) is currently led by Harry Kane with six goals. Only France’s Kylian Mbappe is a within a hat trick having three goals in the tournament. A much closer race to follow is the Golden Ball award for the tournaments best player. In order to win the award a shortlist is drawn up by the FIFA technical committee and the winner is voted on by representatives of the media. Currently the betting odds have 19 year old Mbappe as -110 favorites with Croatia’s Luka Modric +225. While it seems like the best player from the winning team would always win the award, that is not the case. The last five winners have been from teams that have not lifted the cup (Lionel Messi 2014, Diego Forlan 2010, Zinedine Zidane 2006, Oliver Kahn 2002 and Ronaldo 1998). You have to go back to Romario in 1994 for a World Cup winner to also be awarded the Golden Ball.
France is the clear favorite and looks like it is only a matter of 90 minutes away from sewing on a second star above their crest. Croatia’s Modric and Ivan Rakitić have been a great duo throughout the tournament powering their midfield, but France has an entire attacking squad worthy of World Best XI selection (and Olivier Giroud) in their lineup that should feature a front six of Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kante; Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi; Giroud.
It has been a pleasure to be your author for this month long journey. Let’s do it one more time with everything on the line.