Mbappe, France to face Modric, Croatia for title
MOSCOW — Kylian Mbappe has electrified the World Cup with his speed and youthful exuberance. Luka Modric has coolly controlled matches in Russia with his graceful play in the middle.
Whether France wins its second title in 20 years or Croatia raises the trophy for the first time Sunday at the Luzhniki Stadium in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin and nearly a billion television viewers could turn on the play of the two stars.
The 19-year-old Mbappe has been the biggest sensation at the tournament in Russia, scoring three goals — including two against Argentina in the round of 16 — and creating havoc for opposing defenses with his pace and his agility.
“It’s going to be the biggest match of my life, for sure,” the Paris Saint-Germain forward said Friday.
Although Mbappe has impressed for France at the month-long tournament, Modric has been the rock and the spark for Croatia. When the Real Madrid midfielder has the ball at his feet, good things seem to happen for Croatia.
“Even when you think they’re going to lose, or going to crack, they always have the mentality to come back,” Mbappe said of the Croatian team. “It’s a team that plays with a lot of intensity.”
France last won the World Cup title in 1998, at home. The French defeated Croatia in the semifinals that year, which until now had been the country’s best showing at the tournament.
The heads of state from both countries are expected to sit with Putin. Will Smith is set to headline the closing ceremony.
Croatia, a country of 4.5 million people which gained independence from the former Yugoslavia only 27 years ago, enters the final after playing three straight extra-time matches, including two nerve-racking penalty shootouts.
In all three of those matches, Croatia has had to recover from being a goal down.
“When you put the sacred Croatia shirt on you become a different person,” Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic said through a translator. “I’m not trying to say it’s a superior feeling that the French have for France, or Russians for Russia.
“The best feeling is to be Croat these days and this is the source of all our strength.”
Croatia’s Luka Modric, left, is challenged by England’s Jordan Henderson in Wednesday’s semifinal.