63 matches are down and now there is just one last match left in the 2018 World Cup. It has been a brilliant tournament so far and on Sunday afternoon the competition should draw to a close with a wonderful final when France take on Croatia in Moscow.
France have made it through to this stage without losing any of their matches or indeed being taken beyond 90 minutes in them. Croatia are also undefeated but they have been taken past normal time in each of their three knockout contests thus far.
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The French side have not always been pleasing on the eye in this tournament but nobody can argue they have not been effective. They have kept clean sheets in four of their six matches to date and in one of the matches they conceded in it was only a penalty that got past them so defensively they have probably been the standout side in the competition.
The frustration lies with the fact that they have not always delivered what they promise in attacking areas but this competition is all about winning and progressing and that is what they do. This is the second major final in succession for France after they made it to the 2016 European Championship final. They lost on that occasion on home soil so that will be massive motivation for them to win here.
Early on the in tournament Croatia looked like the winners in waiting but while it has got a little harder for them in the knockout stages their experience has come to the fore and they are into their first World Cup final. There is no doubt that Croatia are here because of the class of their midfield and if they are to win the match it will be that area of the pitch which does it for them.
Croatia have actually conceded in their last four matches in the tournament but while that is not a great record they have shipped a penalty, a stunning free kick, a wonder goal and a set piece goal against Russia and a second phase from a long throw so it isn’t like they are being opened up in defensive areas by any means.
Blaise Matuidi went off early in the semi-final win over Belgium but he has been passed fit to play having suffered no concussion so France are expected to be unchanged for this final barring any late injury concern.
Croatia were monitoring the fitness of Ivan Rakitic after he had a fever earlier in the week but he has been given the all clear which leaves Ivan Perisic as their only doubt after he sustained an injury in the win over England.
I hope this is a classic final in keeping with what we’ve seen in the tournament so far but I have my concerns that it will be because in open play at least both have looked pretty solid and do not look like conceding many goals so if there are any goals in this final it might need a piece of brilliance of a set-piece. There are plenty of players on show who can deliver that but we haven’t seen a goal inside 90 minutes in the last two finals and given the occasion and the magnitude of the match I wouldn’t be surprised if both offer a safety first approach in which case no goalscorer may give us a real good run for our money.
I also think if the match does go beyond 90 minutes it will be a long 30 minutes for Croatia because they have already played an extra 90 minutes in the tournament and France actually rested players for their final group match so the French should be much the fresher heading into the extra period. The last two finals have been won in extra time and France look good value to win this one in the same section of the contest too.
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