Fri 13 Jul 2018, 10:30
The World Cup’s two best sides have contrasting histories, styles and approaches. We preview Sunday’s showpiece event at 17:00, which you can stream live on DStv Now on your mobile or your laptop.
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium is a 78 000-seater arena that will on Sunday host its seventh World Cup fixture. Both teams have played here before. The French drew 0-0 with Denmark in a meaningless group-state encounter while the Luzhniki was also the scene of Croatia’s dramatic 2-1 semi-final win over England.
There’s Gallic flair aplenty with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe in the French squad, but in truth, Les Bleus have been clinical and efficient rather than flamboyant. However, this is a well-organised outfit with quality and depth in every position.
Croatia have surpassed expectations and the team’s crisp passing game coupled with a keen attitude has won many admirers, even though they’ve needed penalties in the last 16 and quarter-finals, and extra-time in the semis to advance this far.
Didier Deschamps has been in charge of France since 2012 and won the 1998 World Cup as a player. Deschamps coached his team to the final of Euro 2016, which he was criticised for losing. Yet he isn’t afraid to make bold calls – leaving Karim Benzema at home for example – and has largely focused on continuity in selection.
The same cannot be said for Croatia’s Zlatko Dalic, who has only been in the job for nine months. Dalic has proved an adept tactician and his decision to drop quarter-final hero Andrej Kramaric for Marcelo Brozovic against England was inspired as it gave Croatia midfield dominance and allowed Luka Modric to control the pace of the game.
France are one of the most storied teams in World Cup history, having competed at the inaugural tournament in 1930. They hosted and won the World Cup in 1998 and finished second in 2006.
Croatia are participating for just the fourth time and made their World Cup debut as recently as 1998, when they shocked the footballing world by reaching the semi-finals. Their opponents that day: France, with Les Bleus winning 2-1.
The key battles
Modric has been the player of the tournament, while 19-year-old Mbappe has been its breakout star. The match will be won in the middle of the park, though. The French engine room of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba will attempt to take charge to halt the likes of Ivan Rakitic from creating space for Modric to thrive. France also rely on wide attackers, so Croatia’s full-backs Ivan Strinic and Sime Vrsaljko will be eager to push forward to both pin back Mbappe and Griezmann, and launch balls into the box for Croatian hitman Mario Mandzukic.
The team news
Both managers are likely thinking that it is best to field unchanged lineups. But Blaise Matuidi is a doubt for France due to concussion while Croatia’s Ivan Perisic could miss out as he has a thigh injury. Dalic has other concerns, too, not least that all three of their knockout matches have gone to extra-time, whereas France finished all theirs in regulation time and have had an extra day of rest.
Take note: All DStv Access, Family, Compact and Compact Plus customers will get all 13 SuperSport channels – SuperSport 1-12 and SuperSport Blitz – from 13 to 31 July.