And then there were two. 63 games filled with drama, intrigue, set-piece goals and surprise results have determined our finalists: France and Croatia. There is a distinctly 1998 feel to this World Cup Final, evoking more than a few memories of the global finals which saw France emerge victorious on home soil two decades ago.
Vatreni will be out for revenge from their final four defeat against Les Bleus back in 1998, with the then debutants denied a place in a maiden Final by Lilian Thuram’s only international goals. France will be hoping their captain in the Final that followed that semi-final victory just over 20 years ago is their good luck charm at the Luzhniki Stadium. Didier Deschamps could become only the third man – after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer – to lift the Trophy as a player and coach, if he can replicate from the dugout the successful Final he had against A Seleção in 1998.
Despite the deep connections to the past, these sides are very much living in the here and now. France were functional and firm against Belgium to see off the Red Devils 1-0 in Tuesday’s semi-final while Croatia needed extra time – for the third consecutive game – to defeat England at the Luzhniki on Wednesday. Can Croatia go one better than their heroes of ’98 – or will it be Deschamps’ day once again in world football’s biggest game? The globe will be watching, and impatiently waiting for an answer.
If the next step is the most beautiful, it’s the most difficult one too. French players, who still have the sour taste of the UEFA EURO 2016 final defeat against Portugal in their mouth, logically appeared very focused this week in Istra. But still, they didn’t lose their relaxed nature and have said they will prepare this final as a normal match. To be world champions, Les Bleus will have to win the physical challenge imposed by the Croatians. As the world saw against England, they will be dangerous until the very end. But France have already shown how solid they can be. May the best team win!
No one expected Croatia to be here. But Vatreni deserve their place in this glorious, magical finale. And they will not be tired, for sure. Just ask England. This despite the fact that Croatia have now played a full 90 minutes more than France. If Croatia can clear one more hurdle, they will make history. This ‘golden generation’ led by Luka Modric, will not be overawed by the fact they are simply in the final; Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic have already scored goals in past UEFA Champions League finals. Zlatko Dalic’s team are one step away from immortality. And they are well aware of that.