A youth­ful France faces vet­eran-laden Croa­tia for Cup

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY GRA­HAM DUN­BAR

France is the es­tab­lished power with a young team full of speed and skill. Croa­tia has the veter­ans that have shown they can never be counted out.

The two sides will meet on Sun­day in the World Cup fi­nal, with France go­ing for its sec­ond ti­tle in its third fi­nal in 20 years. Croa­tia, a coun­try that only gained in­de­pen­dence in 1991, will be play­ing in its first.

“Tra­di­tion is there to be de­mol­ished,” Croa­tia coach Zlatko Dalic said Satur­day. “I’m not in­ter­ested who is the op­po­nent.”

Most con­sider France to be the fa­vorite for the match at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium, just like two years ago when the coun­try’s na­tional team faced Por­tu­gal in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship fi­nal at home.

But per­haps feel­ing com­pla­cent af­ter beat­ing Ger­many in the semi­fi­nals, France flopped.

“I don’t think it’s go­ing to hap­pen again,” said France cap­tain Hugo Lloris, who has been stel­lar in goal dur­ing this year’s tour­na­ment. “We are far from think­ing on our side that we have al­ready reached the goal.”

Lloris was the goal­keeper in that 1-0 loss in Paris, fac­ing a Por­tu­gal team that had reached the fi­nal af­ter some ex­tra-time vic­to­ries.

Croa­tia has done the same this year, need­ing penalty kicks to beat Den­mark and host Rus­sia be­fore de­feat­ing Eng­land in ex­tra time in the semi­fi­nals.

France coach Di­dier Deschamps has made some changes to his team, how­ever. Four­teen, to be ex­act, from the 23 play­ers who made up the squad two years ago.

An­other fac­tor in France’s fa­vor is rest. The French had only two days of rest be­tween the Euro 2016 semi­fi­nals and the fi­nal. This time, they have four full days to re­cover, one more than Croa­tia.

“A lot of things have changed,” Lloris said. “Es­pe­cially when it comes to re­cov­ery and prepa­ra­tion time.”

Croa­tia has also played a lot more soc­cer in its six matches in Rus­sia. With its last three matches go­ing to ex­tra time, the team has played a full 90 min­utes more than France. There was also the added stress of two penalty shootouts. That’s all be­hind them. “Now, there is no pressure,” Dalic said through a trans­la­tor. “Sim­ply this is the great­est mo­ment in the life of all of us. We have come here to en­joy the fi­nal.”


Croa­tia has not beaten France in five games since be­ing ac­cepted as a FIFA mem­ber fed­er­a­tion in 1992.

The first match was the most mo­men­tous – a 2-1 win for France in the 1998 World Cup semi­fi­nals at Stade de France out­side Paris.

A group game at Euro 2004 ended in a 2-2 draw, and their lat­est game was a 0-0 draw in March 2011 in Paris.


Both teams were un­beaten in the group stage, and France has trailed for only nine min­utes in the en­tire tour­na­ment.

Ar­gentina’s 2-1 lead in the sec­ond half of a round-of-16 game was wiped out by de­fender Ben­jamin Pavard’s lon­grange shot. Kylian Mbappe then ex­ploded for two quick goals in the 4-3 vic­tory.

Croa­tia’s 3-0 win over Ar­gentina was a stand­out per­for­mance in the group stage. The team also never trailed in wins over Nige­ria and Ice­land.

It’s been dif­fer­ent in the knock­out rounds. Croa­tia con­ceded the open­ing goal in each game be­fore ral­ly­ing to ad­vance.


Both teams have played one game at the Luzh­niki Sta­dium so far. Croa­tia beat Eng­land 2-1 at the venue on Wed­nes­day, while France’s 0-0 draw with Den­mark in its fi­nal group game ended with Rus­sian fans boo­ing the tour­na­ment’s only score­less draw.


France fans cel­e­brate in Red Square on the eve of the fi­nal match be­tween Croa­tia and France dur­ing the World Cup in Moscow.

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