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Preview of FIFA World Cup 2018 final match
After a month of high voltage drama, exhilaration and wonderful football with surprises and upsets, the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup is coming to a close, with only two more matches to go, to bring an end to this football carnival hosted by Russia.

The match between England and Belgium being played today is only for academic interest. It will determine the third position. Both England and Belgium were good enough to be in the final, but this tournament has not been very kind to traditionally strong teams. The team that played well on a given day won the match. Passion and collective performance ruled all the matches more than individual skills. 

Intensity will be lacking in this match as no team can win the ultimate prize, but both the teams will want to win this match. England, with a depleted side, had earlier lost to Belgium during group stages, but a full strength English team will take on Belgium today. It should be a high scoring game and quite entertaining. 

England may prevail in this match although Belgium is no push over.

No one can deny that this World Cup has been full of surprises. From defending champions Germany crashing out in the group stage for the first time in their history (discounting their 1938 exit as that was a knock out format), to giants like Spain and Argentina not making it to the quarterfinals, while hosts Russia did the same for the first time in their history (and not as Soviet Union), this World Cup has given its fair share of drama and upsets.

One of the bigger upsets was when Croatia prevailed against England in the second semi-final, despite trailing for about an hour before equalizing, and then scoring the winner in extra time, to book their place in the World Cup Finals for the first time in their history to meet France who defeated Belgium 1-0 to earn their right. The Finals will take place at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday 15th July.

For Croatia, who regained their independence from war-torn Yugoslavia only in 1991, the World Cup final is probably one of the most momentous occasions in its history.  A country of 42 lakh population, less than that of an average city, Croatia had won hearts of soccer fans purely due to their display of passion for the game, excellent team work and indomitable will to win the trophy. Luka Modric is their central pivot who have already created 16 chances for them to score.

France, although full of gifted players, had promoted teamwork by spreading the workload and that is why they are in the finals beating teams like Argentina and Belgium.

The France vs Croatia tie has occurred once before in the knockout stages, when France took on Croatia in the Semi-Finals during their successful 1998 campaign with Lilian Thuram scoring a brace for France. For Croatia, this is hence a chance for revenge. This is the perfect platform where they can take the trophy home for the first time while denying the Les Bleus their second world cup.

Didier Deschamps, who captained the World Cup winning side of France in 1998, will love to go down in the history books as only the third person to win the World Cup both as a player and a manager following in the illustrious footsteps of Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany.

France is yet to lose against Croatia as they won twice and drew three times in their five previous encounters. The French supporters might get confidence from this fact, but the Croatia fans must not lose heart. Both France (1998) and Spain (2010) had won the trophy as first-time finalists. So why not Croatia?

Let us have a look at both the sides.

France:

Favoring a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 lineup, France has the flair and the grit becoming of World Champions. While all eyes will be on 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe who has taken the World Cup by storm, Croatia would also have to be wary of Benjamin Pavard, who scored a stunner against Argentina and has had repeated solid performances. An attack spearheaded by Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud is always a threat, and though the Chelsea forward has not scored yet, the World Cup Final is the perfect stage for him to open his account. Interestingly Griezmann was the top scorer in Euro 2016 with France losing in the final to Portugal. Here France is again in the final, but Griezmann is yet to score. So by that logic probably it is France that is going to win. Defensively, France have been extremely solid, with N'Golo Kanté being one of the best players of this World Cup, and captain Hugo Lloris has only conceded 4 goals in the entire World Cup so far.

Likely Squad: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez, Tolisso, Kanté, Tolisso, Pogba, Mbappé, Griezmann, Giroud 

Market Odds: France winning in 90 minutes has the odds of 10/11 while a draw has the odds of 26/11. France winning the World Cup has an overall odds of 7/15. France is hence clearly the market favorite.

Croatia: 

Playing the World Cup Final for the first time in their history, Croatia has shown the heart required to be worthy challengers for the World Cup Title. Their teamwork and spirit has earned them a place at the grand stage, overcoming tough opponents after grueling matches. They were on the field for 120 minutes in each of the knock out matches, but that is hardly a factor as the team is yet to be defeated. 

With a default formation of 4-2-3-1, the Croatian side tends to favor the high line. All eyes will be on Luka Modric, the Croatian captain, on whom the Croatian attacking prowess depends heavily. The right side of the Croatian attack, spearheaded by Andrej Kramaric will be a threat to the French defense. Mario Mandzukic has had a solid World Cup and would love to continue his good performance in the Final. Defensively, Ivan Rakitic has been a counterpart to N'Golo Kanté, and has worked his socks off, and the French attack will have to beat the experienced Subasic at the goal, to score. 

Likely squad: Subasic, Vrsaljko, Vida, Lovren, Strinic, Badelj, Rakitic, Kramaric, Modric, Perisic, Mandzukic 

Market odds: Croatia winning in 90 minutes has the odds of 4/1 while a draw has the odds of 26/11. Croatia winning the World Cup has an overall odds of 2/1. 

My prediction: 

The market clearly tends to favour France. They also have the advantage of being comparatively fresher than their opponents who have had 120-minute games for their last 3 matches. But such statistics in a game such as football matter little on the pitch. The team which shows greater heart, passion and will to win will clinch the title.

I know predicting anything in football is hazardous. My mind says France, but my heart beats for Croatia.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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