FIFA World Cup: France vs Croatia preview

Former world champions France take on surprise package Croatia in a match that will be remembered for years in both countries, the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Luzhniki Arena in Moscow on Sunday. The two teams have not met since a goalless draw in a friendly match in 2011, while their last competitive match also ended in a draw, 2-2 at the 2004 European Championship. Their only previous World Cup meeting was in 1998, France won that semi-final match 2-1 and then went on to win the trophy with a 3-0 victory over Brazil, while Croatia won the third place play-off 2-1 against the Netherlands. The 1998 match between France and Croatia was quite tense, Davor Suker had put Croatia ahead on 46 minutes but then defender Lilian Thuram scored twice to send France in the final.

France have come a very long way since the start of the 2018 World Cup in terms of their performance level, their opening 2-1 victory over Australia was very lucky as the French were quite tame for most of the game. But Didier Deschamps and his men endured the criticism and moved on, playing better with every match and eventually producing solid displays in the knockout phase of the competition to beat Argentina 4-3, Uruguay 2-0 and Belgium 1-0. France have won their only World Cup on home soil in 1998, then they reached the final again in 2006 but were defeated by Italy. Head coach Didier Deschamps will most likely field the same starting eleven in the final, even though Blaise Matuidi is an injury concern.

Croatia are in uncharted territory now, they have never been in a World Cup final and this surely is a proud moment of a nation of just over 4 million people. The generation of Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban took Croatia to a third-place finish in 1998 but now Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic are hoping to get themselves a place in the history books. Croatia have scored in each of their six matches at the 2018 World Cup so far, but they have also conceded in each of the last three. Moreover, their players should be quite tired after going through extra-time in all the three matches of the knockout phase. Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Strinic had some injury issues during the 2-1 extra-time victory over England in the semi-finals, but they should be in the starting eleven again.

Probable line-ups:

France: Lloris - Pavard, Varane, Umtiti, Hernandez - Kante, Pogba - Mbappe, Griezmann, Matuidi - Giroud

Croatia: Subasic - Vrsaljko, Lovren, Vida, Strinic - Brozovic - Rebic, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic - Mandzukic

My prediction: 1-1 draw after 90 minutes and a nerve-racking penalty shoot-out.

Here are the odds for the match at Bet365:

France win - 1.90
Draw - 3.30
Croatia win - 5.00

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