Mbappe, France to face Mo­dric, Croa­tia for ti­tle

The Norwalk Hour - - SPORTS -

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.”

Ryan Pierse / Getty Im­ages

Croa­tia’s Luka Mo­dric, left, is chal­lenged by Eng­land’s Jor­dan Hen­der­son in Wed­nes­day’s semi­fi­nal.

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