It is payback time for Croatia against a team that had crushed its dream in the 1998 World Cup final
When Croatian forward Mario Mandzukic went past English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 109th minute of the second Semi Final to give Croatia a crucial 2-1 lead everyone knew that the Croats had done it. The team that started as second best behind Argentina in Group D not only stunned England but also created history by reaching their first ever World Cup final. However, the next hurdle on their road to glory is going to be the toughest test they’ll face in the competition. They’ll be up against the same opponent that crushed their dream when the last time they came across each other. A talent-loaded team that’s rarely had to exit second gear, France will face the Croats who have expended more energy than anyone in the tournament for the 21st World Cup. France was one of the favorite sides even before the tournament and will remain so on Sunday, in part because of their depth and talent, and also because they’ll enter the final so much fresher. But the resilient and indefatigable Croats won’t be an easy out. The strength of both sides is the force and flair of their midfield and flanks, where stars like France’s N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé, and Croatia’s Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have put their stamp on this World Cup.This will be the third all-European final in the past four World Cups, with the Eastern European underdogs set to make their maiden appearance. Les Bleus came to Russia facing high expectations, especially after losing the Euro 2016 final on home soil. Coach Didier Deschamps has opted for a balanced and conservative approach as France has gradually taken control of games and found a way to score the goals it needed. And several have come from more unlikely sources — centre backs scored the quarterfinal and semifinal winners. While the 19-year-old Mbappé has furnished some memorable, highlight-reel moments, for the most part, France has been more clinical than creative. They survived a tough knockout-round featuring Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium.
While France has never looked like it was in too much trouble, Croatia seems to be in trouble constantly. Croatia looked fantastic during this World Cup’s group stage. But the knockout round has been an unprecedented grind, with inferior opponents (on paper) taking them to extra time in all three games. Croatia has now played a full 90 minutes more than France. But they have also been tested in a way Les Bleus have not been. If Croats can clear one more hurdle, they’ll make history. Only top-tier countries — the ones that develop talent and contend for titles consistently — have won the World Cup. No “golden generation” has ever done it. Croatia’s first such generation made the semis in ’98, but then they failed to qualify or get out of the group stage for 20 years. This is the second and this is their chance. In the 1998 World Cup in France, a legendary performance by defender Lilian Thuram, who scored both goals, lifted the hosts into a long-awaited first World Cup final with a 2-1 semifinal victory in Saint-Denis. France overcame a second-half red card to defender Laurent Blanc and went on to win the title. This time round, the Croats are been touted as the avenging angels.
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