World Cup finalists offer no shortage of contrasts
each in either extra time or in a penalty-kick shootout, making it the first team in World Cup history to win three straight extra-time games and the first to overcome three deficits en route to the final.
That also means Croatia has played 360 minutes in the knockout rounds, the equivalent of one more full game than France, which also had an extra day of rest between its semifinal and the final.
Given the speed and physicality of a French attack led by Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Paul Pogba, fatigue could be a problem for Croatia.
France’s defense has proved difficult to break down. It gave up one goal in the group stage then struggled a bit with Argentina in the final 16, giving up goals just before and after the intermission to trail for the only time in the tournament.
The deficit lasted only nine minutes, with two goals by Mbappe four minutes apart restoring order. France then shut out its last two opponents, with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris making seven saves. And the French did all of that against tougher competition than the Croatians faced.
“They have upped their game over the past several games,” Croatia’s Ivan Perisic said.
Croatia can’t really point to any compelling statistics other than its win-loss record. The team has received goals from seven players, only two of whom — captain Luka Modric and Perisic — have scored twice. Perhaps the most impressive number for Croatia is 63, the number of kilometers (39 miles) that Modric, a midfielder, has covered in this World Cup, more than 10 kilometers a game and by far the most of any player in the tournament.
Members of the two teams know each other well because many play with or against one another in Spain’s La Liga. Griezmann, for example, is a teammate of Croatian defender Sime Vrsaljko at Atletico Madrid, Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic plays with France’s Samuel Umtiti at Barcelona, and Modric has won four Champions League finals alongside France’s Raphael Varane at Real Madrid.
“I would trade all four titles for this one,” Modric told reporters. “No matter what happens in the final, this is the greatest success story in Croatian sport. But we all have the desire to be the champions. We are full of confidence, we have character and we have everything a team needs to be world champions.”
Croatia has skilled players at virtually every position, allowing it to adapt to different scenarios. In the first two games it trailed, it scored an equalizer in less than 10 minutes. After a brutal first half in its semifinal against England, Croatia regrouped at halftime and controlled the game the rest of the way.
Croatia, though, has never beaten France, going 0-3-2 in five meetings dating to the World Cup semifinals in 1998, Croatia’s first appearance in the tournament as an independent nation.
No one on the Croatian side has forgotten that 2-1 loss, a game in which current French coach Didier Deschamps played.
France went on to win the title, its only World Cup crown.
France coach Didier Deschamps, right, embraces Antoine Griezmann after a victory Tuesday against Belgium put them in the World Cup final against Croatia.