Who? France - Croatia
Where? Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
When? July 15, 17:00 (CET local time)
France (Omri Tancman)
During the round of 16 match between France and Argentina, Benjamin Pavard made a small history. He was the first French defender in 20 years to score a goal in an official match. The last one was Lilian Thuram. Interestingly, the game in which Thuram scored was at the semi-final of 1998 World Cup in France. The rival was no other than Croatia, their rival in this final.
The comparison to Thuram and the resemblance to him was something referred to by Pavard himself as well. In a recent interview, he stated the fact that like Thuram he is also playing for his club as a central defender while in the national team he deploys as a right back. When asked about his future, he admitted that he would love to have the same career as Thuram made and he serves as an inspiration for him.
Thuram himself was full of compliments towards the young prodigy. Pavard played with Thuram’s son in the U-19 Euro 2015 for France, and already then he showed his great football intelligence, according to Thuram. After the match against Argentina, Thuram was even more impressed. It was not only by Pavard's goal but also by the fact that he was impressive as a starter, even though he was just a sub before the tournament, like Thuram in Euro 1996.
Thuram’s goal against Croatia is one of his greatest moments without any doubt, but what gave Thuram a long successful career was his consistent premium ability on defense. If Pavard wishes to be the next Thuram, like many expect of him, he can start by stopping Croatian star winger Perisic, even if he will not score against Croatia, like Thuram.
Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)
It’s not a dream, it’s a reality. Croatia are in the World Cup final for the first time! After dominating the group stage with 3 wins out of 3, the Croatians completed another triple in the knockout stages: Every game went to extra time, and after two penalty shootout victories, England have succumbed to a Mario Mandžukić goal that completed history.
It was yet another heroic performance by a side that is constantly overlooked by other teams and foreign media, but the truth is that Croatia’s achievements are remarkable since they gained independence and they should be considered a part of world football’s elite nations, regardless of Sunday’s score. Since the beginning of the 2018 World Cup, and especially after the thrashing of Argentina, the feeling was that 1998 is happening all over again. The Vatreni finished 3rd that summer, and now they face the same French team who broke their hearts – as Lilian Thuram scored a rare brace for the hosts to cancel Davor Šuker’s opener that night in the Stade de France. Back to 2018, Croatia already overcame the host obstacle after eliminating Russia, and they will want to come full circle by conquering their French demons as well.
This task would be more difficult than ever. Despite showing incredible strength and resilience, it is inevitable that fatigue is going to play a factor in the final. Facing an athletic French team with one of the youngest squads in this tournament, who also enjoy an extra day of rest, can be too much to handle for the Croatians who are the first team in World Cup history to play three extra times in a row. However, in common Eastern European fashion, you can count on Croatia to give it all – as they surely can recognize the importance and rarity of the moment. After all, they have almost failed to qualify to the World Cup due to a tumultuous campaign that was full of internal disputes and poor football, and only the appointment of coach Zlatko Dalić sparked a crucial last gasp victory in Ukraine to reach the playoffs. Surely, no one would have thought the relatively unknown Dalić, who spent the previous 7 years in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, could take this side so far. Perhaps France are favorites, according to most experts, but this just might be Croatia’s moment. Zagreb is waiting to burst into celebrations.