FIFA World Cup 2018: France, Croatia brace for history-making finale
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FIFA World Cup 2018: France, Croatia brace for history-making finale

France coach Didier Deschamps, forward Kylian Mbappe and Croatia are all on the cusp of making history as Moscow braces for the final of the FIFA World Cup 2018.

football Updated: Jul 14, 2018 20:11 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,World Cup 2018,France vs Croatia
France are firm favourites to win the final showpiece in Moscow on July 15, 2018 and become world champions for the second time -- 20 years after their first triumph in 1998. But they will come up against a hungry Croatia side. (AFP)

The fact that Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer are the only men ever to win the World Cup both as a player and later as coach is testament to how rare a feat it is.

Rudi Voller is the other one who came close, eventually losing the 2002 final to Brazil while coaching Germany.

On Sunday night, Didier Deschamps has the chance to enter the elite club when his France take on Croatia in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium.

France are the bookies’ favourites after an impressive campaign and it is hard to disagree.

READ | Croatia’s road to maiden FIFA World Cup final

Deschamps’ side hasn’t been the most pleasing to watch – they have often been conservative and have been proactive to curtail their opponents’ strengths rather than play to their own – but the former Marseille coach has managed to put together a highly effective unit that has kept the discipline.

For Deschamps and France, Sunday also presents a shot at redemption after they lost the Euro 2016 final to Portugal in Paris.

“The tears have dried from Euro 2016 but it’s still there in a little corner of people’s minds,” midfielder Blaise Matuidi said at the team base in Istra on Friday.

In their six games so far, Deschamps has fielded predictable line-ups barring the first game. With the three central midfielders Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Matuidi, France have been able to dictate pace when required.

READ | France’s road to FIFA World Cup 2018 final

Both Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe have been lethal at times with forward Olivier Giroud playing a supporting role up front.

There is unlikely to be a change on Sunday, with Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Hernandez expected to line up in defence in front of keeper Hugo Lloris.

However, it is the team’s ability to adapt to situations and opponents that will cause a few concerns for Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia.

Croatia themselves have been the surprise package of this tournament. Despite boasting of a very strong squad, the Croats weren’t seen as genuine contenders for the title, not even when they picked Argentina apart in the group stage.

READ | Goals, Neymar & Kalinic: best and worst of FIFA World Cup 2018

However, in the knock-outs, Croatia have laboured to victories, scraping past Denmark and Russia on penalties and beating England in extra-time.

The extended knock-out encounters have taken a toll on the squad – both Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Strinic had picked up knocks during their bruising semi-final against England.

According to Dalic, changing his line-up shouldn’t be a cause of worry in case fitness issues come to the fore ahead of the game.

“One thing that brings me happiness is that all my players tell me if they are not 100 per cent fit. They will concede and say they are not fit. They know what is at stake, but if they are unable to give their all, they will tell us. They have such an attitude,” he told reporters on Saturday.

READ | FIFA World Cup 2018: Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic chooses hard path to success

Midfielder Luka Modric has run the show so far for Croatia.

The diminutive midfielder leads what is being dubbed as Croatia’s ‘golden generation’, with some prominent names like Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, Mandzukic, among others.

And the generation has delivered well so far in Russia. “I would definitely leave my football boots behind on Monday if that was the price I had to pay to win for my country, to win for Croatia,” summed up Rakitic.

First Published: Jul 14, 2018 18:43 IST