Les Bleus spurred on by 2016 Euro pain

New Straits Times - - SPORT -

MOSCOW: France fine-tuned their prepa­ra­tions for the World Cup fi­nal against Croa­tia yes­ter­day, des­per­ate to over­come the bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing the Euro 2016 fi­nal as Fifa de­clared Rus­sia 2018 the best-ever tour­na­ment.

Di­dier Deschamps’ team are firm favourites to win to­mor­row’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 failed to click in the group stages 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 the 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.

“The tears have dried from Euro 2016 but it’s still there in a lit­tle cor­ner of peo­ple’s minds,” said mid­fielder Blaise Ma­tu­idi yes­ter­day.

“It will be use­ful for us on Sun­day (to­mor­row), even if I don’t like to keep bring­ing up the past. It will serve as a les­son to us and it means we know what it is to play in a fi­nal.

“We’ll ap­proach it dif­fer­ently and hope that we play re­ally well and win it. It’s up to us to put every­thing into place to achieve our dream of lift­ing the World Cup.”

Deschamps’ team are packed with at­tack­ing stars such as Kylian Mbappe and An­toine Griez­mann but it is their de­fence that has shone in the past two rounds, not con­ced­ing a sin­gle goal.

Croa­tia — the small­est na­tion to make it to the fi­nal since Uruguay in 1950 — have bat­tled through three pe­ri­ods of ex­tra­time to reach the fi­nal. That means they have played the equiv­a­lent of a whole ex­tra match more than France.

But coach Zlatko Dalic said there would be no ex­cuses de­spite their ex­er­tions.

“We pre­pared to get to the fi­nal and we want to play it,” he said. “Go­ing to ex­tra-time might be a prob­lem along with the fact France have had an ex­tra day to re­cover but there will be no ex­cuses.”

As the tour­na­ment drifts to­wards its end, Fifa pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino de­clared it the best ever.

“I was say­ing this would be the best World Cup ever. To­day I can say it with more con­vic­tion... it is the best World Cup,” In­fantino said in Moscow.

More than one mil­lion for­eign fans have vis­ited Rus­sia dur­ing the World Cup, ac­cord­ing to FIFA fig­ures.

“A lot of pre-con­ceived ideas have changed thanks to this World Cup,” said In­fantino.

“Ev­ery­one has dis­cov­ered a beau­ti­ful coun­try, a wel­com­ing coun­try, full of peo­ple keen to show to the world what maybe some­times is said is not what hap­pens here.”

He also said the use of the VAR (video as­sis­tant ref­eree) had been a suc­cess and praised the qual­ity of the foot­ball, with just a sin­gle 00 draw in 62 games so far.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple are ex­pected to pour onto the streets of Paris at the week­end, 20 years on from the 1998 win on home soil, when Deschamps was cap­tain of the side.

A se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion swung into full gear, with plans for 110,000 law en­force­ment of­fi­cers to be de­ployed across France as the coun­try cel­e­brates the na­tional Bastille Day hol­i­day and the World Cup fi­nal.

“Every­thing is be­ing done so the French can live these fes­tive mo­ments with peace of mind, de­spite the ter­ror­ist threat which re­mains at a high level,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ger­ard Col­lomb said.

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