After a month-long fight to the finish, two teams stand tall and will lock horns to call themselves the world champion for the next four years. It has been a World Cup of spectacular goals, of set piece mastery and surprises aplenty, like no tournament before.
While France travelled to the final with pragmatic football, securing wins without much sweat, Croatia’s path was all hard work with the team playing three grueling 120 minutes (two finished on penalties) of knockout football. “We did not insist on practice sessions. We have nothing to practise. We need relaxation and rest. We have some minor injuries but I hope we will overcome those today and all my players will be ready to play,” the team’s coach Zlatko Dalic said ahead of the final.
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The team, however, has showed excellent resilience, a fighting spirit that has helped it to close out games. For Croatia – the smallest country to reach the final since Uruguay in 1950 – the final provides an opportunity to perhaps write the most glorious chapter in its young history. After gaining independence in 1991, it took just seven years to reach the semifinals in France 1998 and 20 years down the team is looking to exact sweet revenge as it faces its nemesis from then, France, in this summit clash.
“Win or lose tomorrow there will be a seismic event (in Croatia). This gives us strength and motivation. There can be no better moment for a player or a coach than tomorrow. Whatever happens, we will be happy and proud because we deserved it. “I do not give much thought to statistics and tradition and to head-to-head,” Dalic said.
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“Traditions are there to be demolished. Tomorrow is the final. We don’t care who is on the other side of the pitch. We are here to enjoy the final and give our best,” he added.
Croatia, though, has to fight fatigue and also the eclectic pace of Kylian Mbappe, who has been France’s standout performer in an otherwise steady but unspectacular team that has banked on defensive solidity rather than attacking dynamism to navigate through the past six games. Didier Deschamps, who won the FIFA World Cup as a captain in 1998, is expected to stick with his shrewd approach that has delivered so far with Olivier Giroud playing at the head of a 4-3-2-1 system.
“We have given ourselves this huge privilege of reaching the final of the World Cup and we want to win it. It is not nothing to win the semifinal of a World Cup after losing the Euro final,” said Deschamps, still trying to exorcise the demons of losing the 2016 Euro final to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal at home.
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Up against the goal threat of Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic and possibly the tournament’s best midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Deschamps will look to N’Golo Kante – the midfield enforcer – and Paul Pogba, who too has shown greater defensive discipline, to keep the opposition at bay, while Giroud will hold on the ball upfront to create space for Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to run.
With no serious injury concerns upsetting their plans, both managers will call on their best XI for the game that will create immortals from one set of players and only heartbreak for the others.
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