The World Cup Final is upon us. After two nail-biting semifinals, the French came out on top of the Belgians, and Croatia defeated England. These teams have advanced this far in different ways and have been effective throughout the tournament. So, how did both of these nations get here?
France advanced through the group stage with single-goal victories against an underrated Peru team and an Australia squad to go with its draw against Denmark to top Group C. Kylian Mbappe put his best foot forward in the round of 16, defeating Lionel Messi and the struggling Argentina side 4-3. This gave Mbappe the spotlight among rising stars in the World Cup. After withstanding the Uruguayans in the quarterfinals, Samuel Umtiti scored his first goal in the World Cup to lift the French to the final 1-0 against Belgium.
Croatia, after barely qualifying for the World Cup, has made a run with its Golden Generation to a FIFA World Cup final for the first time in the nation’s history. Croatia surprised the world with its three wins from three games in the group stage (one of which was against the favorite of the group, Argentina). In the round of 16, Croatia played Denmark in one of the most entertaining games of the World Cup, winning on penalties 3-2. Then in the quarterfinals, Croatia went to extra time with Russia. The host rallied late to force penalty kicks, which resulted in Croatia advancing 4-3. Having played an hour of soccer more than their English counterparts in the semifinal, many people anticipated that the Croatians would wear out quicker than the English, but that was not the case. Forcing extra time for the third straight match, Croatia defeated England, becoming the first team to play and win three extra-time games in a row.
What to expect in the final
France and Croatia have played the matches of this tournament differently from each other, which would suggest a battle of styles throughout the final. France can sit back and play on the counter against a Croatian team that values possession in the midfield. Expect players like Luka Modric and Kylian Mbappe to be vital influences on their sides’ success. France should attempt to utilize its talent and athleticism to impose its will on the fundamentally gifted Croatian midfield in the best matchup of the final. Overall, I anticipate a great game Sunday morning in Moscow.