World Cup final: Statistically, Croatia better prepared to avenge defeat

Even as Croatia’s 1-2 loss to France in 1998 semi-final and France’s 2016 Euro Cup loss to Portugal will haunt the two teams, statistically, Croatia are favourites. But France is better on paper

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Vikrant Jha

In the 1998 World Cup, the French defence was hailed as the best, having conceded only one goal till the semi-final. But 20 years later, it is a different ball game as France faces Croatia in the final on Sunday.

In the 2018 World Cup, Croatia has been, statistically, the best team at defending their goalpost with 272 clearances, tackles and saves according to FIFA. In terms of goals too, Croatia is ahead with 12 goals in six matches while France have scored 10 goals in as many matches.

What’s more, Croatia has made 100 attempts at the rivals’ goal, as many as 25 more than France. On paper, therefore, Croatia look to have a better balance and a better defence.

On the other hand, France arguably overcame stronger teams on their way to the final as they beat Uruguay, Argentina and Belgium and host some seriously devastating talents up their sleeves. Croatia on the other hand beat Denmark, Russia and England on their way to the final, the reason why France are the bookies’ favourite in the final.

The player who has covered the most distance in 2018 is the 32-year-old Croatian Captain, Luka Modric. Modric has covered 63 kms in Russia before the finale. The 19-year-old French sensation Mbappe, in comparison, has covered just 43.2km. Griezmann, the French leader in the front half has covered 54.9km.

Croatia’s march to the final has electrified the nation of 4.2 million people and the team can be trusted to give everything they have. The country which became independent only in 1992, had confounded critics by reaching the semi final of the 1998 World Cup. They even took the lead but two goals by Thuram had then put paid to their dream of playing in the final. It had to settle for the third place when they defeated Switzerland while France went on to lift their first and only trophy.

The team of 2018 will be playing on Sunday to avoid another heartbreak.

Match facts:

When: Sunday, 08:30 pm IST

Where: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow

Capacity: 80,000

The French summer?

The French side has many similarities to their 1998 squad. Just like a 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe is stealing the show this time, a 21-year-old Thierry Henry was running riot for France in 1998. Just as a 27-year-old Antoine Griezmann is playing a stellar role in 2018, it was 26-year-old Zinedine Zidane controlling and shaping up the French line of attack in 1998. In fact, the Captain of the 1998 clash, Didier Deschamps is co-incidentally coaching the French side in 2018.

France, having knocked Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium en-route to the final, are the clear favourites. But Croatia have shown the resilience and perseverance and have given their best every time they have taken field. While France kept knocking one favourite after the other to enhance, Croatia kept taking the game deep to keep checking their own and their opponents’ patience.

All three knock-out matches involving Croatia has needed extra time for result, with two of them going down to the penalty shootouts. Croatia’s remarkable fightback against England in the semi-final after going a goal down in the very fifth minute would have sent a warning signal to France, who will be under more pressure to perform.

Will Sunday, therefore, witness a cautious, defensive game? Or, will it be a pulsating final with both the team intent on attacking the other? The consensus is that the final will be played mostly in the midfield.

While Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric will aim to control possession, Griezmann and Kante will try to control it for France. While Croatia will have to worry about Mbappe’s speed with the ball and Giroud’s finesse, French side will have to keep a check on the likes of Mandzukic and Perisic who keep a low profile on the field but surprise the opposition rank with their sublime finish.

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