France will start as firm favourites for the World Cup final against Croatia on Sunday, desperate to overcome the bitter disappointment of losing the Euro 2016 final.
Didier Deschamps’ team will look to win Sunday’s showpiece in Moscow 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 boasting one of the players of the tournament in Real Madrid star Luka Modric, who is desperate to win the trophy for the nation of just over four million people.
France made a slow start to their World Cup bid but they have gone up through the gears during the knockout rounds and look a formidable blend of youthful vitality and experience.
They will approach the match at Moscow’s 80,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium full of confidence and with the pain of losing the final of Euro 2016 on home soil to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal spurring them on.
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Croatia’s exhausted and battered players, meanwhile, will have set their sights on a historic World Cup triumph.
Modric’s team were taken to extra-time for the third consecutive match in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday but somehow found the energy to overcome England 2-1.
Croatia have now played the equivalent of a whole match more than Deschamps’ team ahead of Sunday’s final in the Russian capital but must gird themselves for one final push for glory.
In beating Gareth Southgate’s young team, Croatia have surpassed the achievement of the heroes of 1998, who reached the semi-finals in France in their first World Cup as an independent nation.
The victory sparked wild celebrations in the Balkan nation, where tens of thousands of fans poured onto the streets and squares, singing, letting off flares and waving red-white-and-blue flags.
On Sunday, they will look to become only the ninth country to lift the famous trophy.
Here’s a look at their head-to-head:
France v Croatia head-to-head
|Goals scored by France||9|
|Goals scored by Croatia||3|
More facts and figures
- This is the 900th match in Fifa World Cup history.
- The competition’s inaugural fixture also involved France, who overpowered Mexico 4-1 on 13 July 1930 at the Pocitos stadium in Montevideo.
- France have faced Croatia five times before and remain unbeaten with three wins and two draws, including a goalless stalemate in the most recent meeting in 2011. Didier Deschamps took to the field in all three French victories.
- The pair’s first duel took place in the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup and was won 2-1 by France, courtesy of Lilian Thuram’s brace after a Davor Suker goal had put the Vatreni in front.
- This Final between France and Croatia is the World Cup’s ninth all-European finale.
- Croatia are the second team to reach the World Cup Final after qualifying for the tournament via the play-offs (where they overcame Greece in a double-header). The first side to do it were Germany in 2002, who secured their tournament berth by defeating Ukraine over two legs.
- France are contesting their third title decider, after beating Brazil 3-0 in 1998 and losing on penalties to Italy in 2006.
- Croatia, who are in the World Cup Final for the first time, are the 13th team to reach the concluding match and the tenth from Europe.
- Croatia have been taken into extra time in three consecutive games (two of which went to penalties). Only England have experienced the same situation, back in 1990. No team has ever contested four extra-time matches or three penalty shoot-outs in a World Cup.
- Teams that qualified for the Final after playing extra time in the semi-finals have only won the Trophy twice in eight attempts. The winning sides were Germany FR in 1990 (although the other semi-final also went to extra time and penalties) and Italy in 2006.
- Didier Deschamps could become the third person to win the World Cup as player and coach, after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer. Deschamps could also emulate Beckenbauer as the only other man to complete the captain-coach double.
- If he plays, Luka Modric will make his 12th World Cup appearance and become the highest-placed Croat in the competition’s all-time appearance ranking, surpassirg Dario Simic who retired with eleven.
- Nestor Pitana is the second Argentinian referee to oversee a FIFA World Cup Final, after Horacio Elizondo in 2006. Along with Elizondo, Pitana is one of a trio of referees assigned to cover both the Opening Match and the Final of the same World Cup. The other member of the trio is English official George Reader, who in 1950 took charge of both the Opening Match and the decisive match of the final group stage between Uruguay and Brazil, although that game is not technically considered a Final.
General statistics about the World Cup final
Did you know? A foreign coach has never led the team to the World Cup trophy, a statistic that will remain this year.
- A total of 71 goals have been scored in World Cup finals so far (including 1950, when there was technically no final, but the last match between Brazil and Uruguay was decisive)
- Only one World Cup winning captain from the list below has coached the team to the trophy as well – Franz Beckenbauer. Deschamps will hope to join him.
With AFP inputs
(Stats courtesy: Fifa.com)