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The final hurdle

  • Published at 07:34 pm July 14th, 2018
  • Last updated at 07:40 pm July 14th, 2018

After a month full of footballing drama, we are left with only two teams as France and Croatia prepare to do battle in the grand finale of the 2018 Fifa World Cup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia today.

Arguably one of the most competitive editions ever and the best ever according to many, including the likes of Fifa president Gianni Infantino, the Russia World Cup has  produced several incredible games, results and emotions. The greatest show on earth has also seen the rise of the underdogs and the fall of the giants.

The World Cup final went to extra time in the last three editions after remaining undecided in normal time and it remains to be seen whether the grand finale of the Russia World Cup would follow a similar path.

The Vatreni in their debut World Cup in France 1998 suffered a defeat at the hands of the Les Blues in the semi-final. Host France eventually became champion for the only time in history. This time around, the Croats will be out to take revenge after being denied by two Lilian Thuram goals 20 years ago.

On the other hand, France will get the guidelines from the captain of that side which won against the Croats in their only World Cup meeting as Didier Deschamps could become only the third man in history - after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer - to lift the trophy in the field and in the dugout.

Both the teams displayed some wonderful football on their way to the final. France showed their main strength – pace – and enjoyed a comparatively smooth ride till date, winning all the knockout matches in stipulated time. Their solid performance in defusing the magical midfield of Belgium to win the semi-final with a solo goal proves how good they are as a team. They have also executed Deshchamps’ plans on the field.

Host France were beaten by Portugal in the Uefa Euro 2016 final, despite being the title favourite. Hopefully the Les Blues have learned from their past mistakes and their fans will hope the men in blue replicate the glory of 1998. But they also know that Croatia will not be an easy team to beat, especially after their desperate performances in all the knockout games.

Midfielder Paul Pogba is convinced that the error in the Euro 2016 final will not be repeated in Moscow. "In 2016, we made the mistake of being over-confident," he said. "After beating Germany in the semi-final, we felt we were destined to win. I can promise you we won't make the same mistake again.”

Honestly, no one expected Croatia to be here. Croatia entered the final after a rough ride following the group stage. And in all the three knockout games, the Vatreni got back to the game after going one goal behind. They took the game to extra time in all of the knockout matches, and won on each occasion, including two penalty shootout wins.

Their performance was so clinical that England had to put pay their dream of bringing the cup home, thanks to the extra-time goal by Mario Mandzukic. It was also learnt that Ante Rebic was having problems with his neck and Ivan Rakitic was suffering from fever. Despite the problems, the duo featured in the semi-final, just going to show how desperate they are to take it home.

One of the key men behind Croatia’s success, Ivan Rakitic talked about their goals ahead of the final.

"They won in 1998, we congratulate them. We want to do this [today[. We have respect for the French team, but this is a new game. We want to take the title. We want to take the trophy to Croatia…France (are) a very serious team, they have fantastic players, in all positions. We know it will be difficult. We have to play the best we can, there will be a fight and our desire is huge. I hope they will not sleep well ahead of the final."

In five overall meetings, Croatia have never won against France. But records won’t matter when the two best teams of the tournament lock horns with each other with the same goal in mind – winning the 2018 World Cup. The whole world will watch with bated breath and the answer of who exactly are going to be crowned champion in the greatest show on earth will be answered tonight. May the best team win.

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