France will bid to win their second FIFA World Cup title as they will start as slight favourites against maiden finalists Croatia in the 2018 edition title-decider at the Luzhniki Stadium here on Sunday.
The title clash refreshes memory of their 1998 semi-final when two near-identical second half strikes by right-back Liliam Thuram propelled France to their first final before they went on to overwhelm defending champions and South American powerhouse Brazil.
This time, however, Zlatko Dalic-coached Croatia have a squad capabale of going all the way. Just like the Davor Suker-captained batch of 1998, this Croatian side, has a similar never-say-die attitude, coupled with talent from the best clubs all over Europe.
However, France have, at least on paper, a squad loaded with talent and more depth. In Didier Deschamps, they have a coach who has previous experince of winning the World Cup as a player.
Deschamps, who captained the 1998 French side, has a chance to achieve the rare distinction of becoming only the third man, in history — after Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and German legend Franz Beckenbauer — to win the World Cup both as a player and a head coach.
Deschamps’ side drew one group game (against Denmark), but their World Cup has been one of constant progression, built around goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, central defenders Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti and midfielders, N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba. They have helped France overcome Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium on to their way to the final.
Since their first game against Australia, Deschamps brought in striker Olivier Giroud to provide a focal point in attack as it allowed Atletico Madrid playmaker Antoine Griezmann to play in the central attacking space.
Add to that the pace of teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, who will also drop back to help in the middle on the right flank, Blaise Matuidi on the left, and France seem like a team without any apparent weaknesses.
Full-backs Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard have done well to push forward and exploit spaces with the help of their wingers.
To combat France, Croatia have a compact side known for hard work, stubbornness and adaptability. Croatia have had an impressive campaign at this World Cup. They topped an extremely difficult group that included perennial title contenders Argentina, Iceland and Nigeria.
They endured a gruelling route to the final and they were stretched to the limit during all three of their knockout round victories. Against Denmark and Russia, they prevailed via penalty shootouts, while in the semi-final against England, they started poorly conceding the first goal within five minutes before winning in extra-time.
They will need every bit of that resillience against the talented French. Croatia have achieved a landmark of sorts, having become the country with the second lowest population to reach the final.
In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia have arguably the best midfield in Russia and the presence of star strikers Mario Mandzukic and Ante Rebic add some added force upfront.
Modric and Rakitic have also been protecting central defenders Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida, who stand in front of experienced AS Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
Left-back Ivan Strinic and right-back Sime Vrsaljko are almost certain to start.
Rebic, along with Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic may feature ahead of the midfield trio of Modric, Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic.
Croatia have an experienced squad and will go into the match with the belief of going the distance.