Can Croatia end France dreams of second Cup title?
AFTER 31 days, 62 games, 161 goals and an incredible amount of tension and intrigue, the 2018 World Cup in Russia has reached its climax.
France - spearheaded by 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe - will start favourite against the Luka Modric-led Croatia in the final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Monday morning (AEST).
But as Croatia have shown throughout the tournament they thrive on pressure and can't be underestimated
FRANCE'S ROAD TO THE FINAL
Beat Australia 2-1 (Griezmann PEN, Behich OG); beat Peru 1-0 (Mbappe); drew with Denmark 0-0
Rnd of 16: 4-3 win vs Argentina (Griezmann PEN, Pavard, Mbappe 2)
QF: 2-0 win vs Uruguay (Varane, Griezmann)
SF: 1-0 win vs Belgium (Umtiti)
TOP 3 PLAYERS
Kylian Mbappe (PSG), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)
France made only one change after its quarter-final, with Blaise Matuidi replacing Corentin Tolisso in midfield. The side appeared to come through the semi-final unscathed, although Juventus's Matuidi was out on his feet by the end, indicating that another change could be on the cards. Bayern Munich's Tolisso would be favorite to come in, with coach Didier Deschamps sticking to a tried and tested core.
WORLD CUP RECORD
1 win: 3-0 win vs Brazil, 1998. 1 runner-up: Lost to Italy on pens after 1-1 draw, 2006
DAVUTOVIC SAYS: It's not quite winning ugly, but France have done just enough without ever looking exceptional or frightening - a good sign for Les Bleus, as it appears they have another gear. The other positive is the form of teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, who has lifted his game in the knockout phase and taken much of the team's responsibility. Plenty of world-class players across the board.
CROATIA'S ROAD TO THE FINAL
Beat Nigeria 2-0 (Etebo OG, Modric); Beat Argentina 3-0 (Rebic, Modric, Rakitic); beat Iceland 2-1 (Badelj, Perisic)
Rnd of 16: Beat Denmark on penalties after 1-1 draw (Mandzukic)
QF: Beat Russia on pens after 2-2 draw (Kramaric, Vida)
SF: 2-1 win vs England (Perisic, Mandzukic)
TOP 3 PLAYERS
Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Danijel Subasic (Monaco)
Perisic clutched at his left hamstring moments before the final whistle in Croatia's semi-final and looked slightly despondent after the match, refusing to speak to media. The winger would be a huge loss after his outstanding display off the left. Otherwise there were no major concerns, just fatigue after three extra-time affairs.
WORLD CUP RECORD
Semi-finals: 2-1 loss to France, 1998
DAVUTOVIC SAYS: They sure know how to celebrate wins, with beers, scotch and songs flowing into the wee hours and one of Croatia's most noted singers Mladen Grdovic (Croatia's version of Darryl Braithwaite) entertaining the players until the wee hours in their hotel. When celebrations cease, the focus will turn to recovery, but the extraordinary team camaraderie should offset any niggles and fatigue.
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