The 2018 FIFA World Cup is set to come to a close this weekend after a month-long treatment of sheer, unadulterated football.
Croatia, who turned out to be the dark horses of the tournament, will be pitting themselves against heavy favorites France, with the much anticipated encounter scheduled to take place at the Luzhniki Stadum on Sunday.
It was an unfamiliar case of fifth time lucky for the Croats, as they booked their passage into the final two in their fifth appearance at the global extravaganza, following a 2-1 win over England.
Although it was expected to be a turgid affair, the Three Lions began the day the sharper side, as they registered a blistering start to be contest by grabbing the lead within the first few opening exchanges. Dele Alli was recklessly felled over by Luka Modric after being fed the ball by Jesse Lingard; a move that drew a free kick right at the edge of the box.
Up stepped Kieran Trippier who made no mistakes about it, as the Tottenham Hotspur fullback scored a 20-yard screamer to give England the lead after just five minutes.
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Gareth Southgate’s charges looked to have assuredly put one foot in the final having contained Croatia for the remainder of the opening half, but the lowered tempo and unsavory finishing allowed their European counterparts to creep back into the contest.
Sime Vrsaljko lifted a threatening ball into the far post from the right wing, one that Kyle Walker looked on course to clear wide with a stooping header, only for Ivan Perisic to nip in from behind and send it soaring into the back of the net with a high boot.
Croatia, who had received a new lease of life with the equalizer, looked the well rounded side afterwards, understandably so given England’s close but no cigar nature.
The energy sapping encounter soon sailed on the voyage of uncertainty with thirty additional minutes, after the scores were tied at one apiece in normal time. Even though the Croatians had several scuffed and miscued strikes, it was a vivid indication that they were growing into the game, despite the evident stain from several players who had jaded legs.
The biggest chance of extra time however fell to Mario Mandzukic who knocked the wind out of England’s sails with what proved to be the winner in the 109th minute; the goal coming only minutes after the Juventus forward had been bravely denied from point blank range by Jordan Pickford.
Despite the fact that England are by a massive inclination an attack minded side, the Three Lions were only limited to one shot on target in the entire match- that being Trippier’s opening goal.
Even the standard bearer in Harry Kane, who may very well end the tournament as the golden boot winner, was reduced to a peripheral figure against a water tight Croatian defense.
Zlatko Dalic’s side found it hard to comprehend the scale of their achievement, having been overwhelmed by emotions at the final whistle; in stark contrast to England hearts which were evidently shattered.
The victory nonetheless sees them set up a final bout with the French who will not be messing about given the evocative memories of their UEFA Euro 2016 final loss to Portugal.
France vs. Croatia 1st half/second half predictions
From the way Croatia have maneuvered their way into the World Cup final, it’s almost as though the longer they play, the better their odds of winning. Dalic’s side has thus far played in three consecutive extra time matches at the World Cup; the first team to do so since England in 1990.
As such, Les Bleus will be wary of Croatia’s ability to switch to another gear beyond the regulation time, a good enough reason for Didier Deschamps’ boys to finish the job early.
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France & Croatia recent results
France 2-1 Australia (June 16, 2018)
Antoine Griezmann 58′ (P)
Aziz Behich 80′ (OG)
Mile Jedinak 62′ (P)
France 1-0 Peru (June 21, 2018)
Kylian Mbappe 34′
Denmark 0-0 France (June 26, 2018)
France 4-3 Argentina (June 30, 2018)
Antoine Griezmann 13′
Benjamin Pavard 57′
Kylian Mbappe 64′, 68′
Angel Di Maria 41′
Gabriel Mercado 48′
Sergio Aguero 90+3′
Uruguay 0-2 France (July 6, 2018)
Raphael Varane 40′
Antoine Griezmann 61′
France 1-0 Belgium (July 10, 2018)
Samuel Umtiti 51′
Croatia 2-0 Nigeria (June 16, 2018)
Oghenekaro Etebo 32′ (OG)
Luka Modric 71 (P)
Argentina 0-3 Croatia (June 21, 2018)
Ante Rebic 53′
Luka Modric 80′
Ivan Rakitic 90+1′
Iceland 1-2 Croatia (June 26, 2018)
Gylfi Sigurdsson 76′ (P)
Milan Badelj 53′
Ivan Perisic 90′
Croatia 1-1(3-2) Denmark (July 1, 2018)
Mario Mandzukic 4′
Mathias Jorgensen 1′
Croatia 2-1 England (July 11, 2018)
Ivan Perisic 68′
Mario Mandzukic 109′
Kieran Trippier 5′
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