The final of World Cup 2018 features only European sides for the 5th time in the tournament’s history, and features the favourites France against the latest golden generation from Croatia.

France vs Croatia Final Preview and Prediction

And then there were two – The 21st World Cup final, the culmination of the extravaganza in Russia over the past three weeks, will be decided between World Cup final debutants Croatia – the 13th nation to make it to a final – and France, playing in their third final.

Of the finalists, Croatia have conceded more goals (5), but scored more goals (12) and have managed to score in every match. They’ve attempted the most shots (100), have the worse shooting accuracy (26% have been on target), but the better conversion rate of those shots (46%). They concede more shots per game than France (13) and win more aerial duels per match (28). Croatia failed to win a single game in 90 minutes during their knockout round, with 2 wins via penalty shootout, and the other coming via extra time. The standout stars are their established veterans; captain Luka Modric and midfield partner Ivan Rakitic have been sublime, offering goals, defensive solidity and creativity. Mario Mandzukic’s pair of goals have arrived in good time, with the forward proving once again to be a striker for big occasion alongside his versatility proving to be a nuisance for opposition defenders to handle. There’ve been improved performances as well from Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic, as well as Sime Vrsaljko and Domahoj Vida who have been amongst the best defenders at the tournament.

France have been a picture of efficiency, keeping more clean sheets (4), and needing far less shot attempts (75), to score their 10 goals. They have a better shooting accuracy (32%) and marginally lower conversion rate than Croatia (42%). They concede far less shots per match (8), but are far less successful in aerial duels (20 won per game). Their football has been both spectacular and effective in their knockout matches, and they’ve not been required to play beyond 90 minutes as yet. Driving their success are Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, both on 3 goals, with the former’s speed and the latter’s class of touch and creativity, proving dangerous for opponents to handle. Their midfield pair of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba has delivered effective controlling displays, with the former being especially celebrated for his defensive contributions. The performances of experienced centre Raphael Varane and breakout fullback Benjamin Pavard have also been notable. 

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Fact of Interest:

  • 7 World Cup finals in total have gone to extra time, with 4 of those 7 coming since 1994. The last 3 finals have all lasted past the 90 minutes.
  • 2 World Cup finals in total have gone to penalties, one in 1994, and the other in 2006, which involved France.
  • 8 World Cup finals in total have been decided by a single goal (excluding penalty shootouts). This includes the last 2 finals, both settled by a 1-0 scoreline.
  • 8 World Cup finals in total have been contested by two European sides, 4 of them were decided by a single goal. 4 of them went to extra time. One of them went to penalty shootout.
  • The last 2 teams to make their first ever appearance in a final – Spain in 2010, and France in 1998 – won the final.
  • Croatia scored first in all their 2018 World Cup group matches, but went behind in all of their knockout matches, managing to come back to win in all of them. France have scored first in all 5 of their wins.
  • France and Croatia’s only previous meeting took place in 1998, when France as hosts came back from a goal down to beat Croatia 2-1 in the semifinal.

Key Players and Tactical Considerations:

Zlatko Dalic has cycled between various systems at the tournament (433, 4231, 4321 and 4141). Given the similarity and danger that the likes of Kylian Mbappe poses as they had to handle with Raheem Sterling from England, it’s fair to suggest Croatia will try a similar approach, using a three man midfield to contain the danger posed by the French. Ivan Rakitic will need to offer defensive support to Marcelo Brozovic, both needing to contain Antoine Griezmann and the marauding runs of Paul Pogba. The pair in anchoring midfield should enable Luka Modric further forward to occupy Kante and enable Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic to connect with Mario Mandzukic in attack, which will be a critical issue to solve, given how well the French defence managed to contain the Belgian attack in the recent semifinal. Most critical will likely be the extent to which left back Ivan Strinic and centre back Domagoj Vida manage the speed of Mbappe, given the French youngster’s danger in that respect.

Didier Deschamps has kept faith with the 4231 system implemented since win over Peru. The XI for the final is highly likely to remain untouched; The back five has been in solid form, and while Croatia lack the skillful danger of a tricky attacker like Eden Hazard, the direct style of Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic, combined with Mandzukic’s tendency to drift in pockets of space, will make for situations where Raphael Varane and Benjamin Pavard will need to maintain concentration on positioning. Hugo Lloris will need to be mindful as well of Perisic’s tendency to drift in and shoot from distance. N’Golo Kante will be crucial to the containment of Luka Modric, especially in cutting out passing lanes and supply lines to the Croatian frontline. Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe will obviously be the pivotal weapons in attacking respects, but the latter in particular will fancy an opportunity to worry the least impressive of all Croatia’s defenders in Ivan Strinic, especially if Griezmann has done his job in occupying the attentions of Rakitic and / or Brozovic in midfield. 

Match Facts & Summary

  France Croatia
World Cup Base Moscow Leningrad
2014 World Cup Finish Quarterfinal Group Stage
Head to Head Record Played 5, France 3 Wins, 2 Draws
Head to Head (World Cups Only) Played 1, France 1 Win (1998 Semifinal)
Record in World Cup Finals Played 2, Won 1 Never played previous final
Penalty Shootout Record Won 2 of 4 Won 2 of 2
Current Top Scorer Griezmann / Mbappe – 3 goals Mandzukic / Perisic / Modric – 2 goals
Goals scored in First Half 4 3
Goals scored in Second Half 6 7
Goals scored in Extra Time 0 2

 

  France Croatia
Odds – Result 0.91 3.92
First Goalscorer Griezmann (4.27) Mandzukic (8.15)
Odds – To Win World Cup 0.45 1.80
Best Odds – Golden Boot Modric (2.00 – 2nd favourite) Mbappe (0.90 – favourite)
Best Odds – Golden Ball Griezmann (33.00) Mandzukic (329.00)

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Our Prediction:

Croatia have taken a dim view of being underestimated, with captain Luka Modric even citing the English media reports as a motivation for the team to ensure they secured passage past their semifinal. For all the complications in getting to the final, Croatia’s charm in team spirit cannot be underplayed, and their team’s effectiveness in chance creation seems to make up for a relative lack of superstars compared to France, at the least. Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic also have a wealth of experience for the big occasion, and while their first World Cup final, they’re no strangers to the concept of needing to tackle a significant 90 or 120 minutes.

France, however, don’t lack the players to match Croatia’s holistic output. Their run to the final has proved a testament to the quality and depth of the group selected for the tournament, and that’s even considering that Deschamps has preferred to use a lopsided 4231 in most games where natural width on the left is compromised with Blaise Matuidi tending to join the midfield rather than playing as an out and out wide forward. They’ve managed to create goals in various situations, and seemingly have an answer for any potential threat posed to them, including a midfield capable of worrying Croatia’s veteran central pairing.

On paper, and on history, the final whistle of Russia 2018 favours the French, and save for another charm offensive from the Croatians, even given the difficulty of the fixture, France should end up victors for the 2nd time in World Cup history.

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* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.

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