After a month of football, the World Cup is down to two teams – and it will be strength, stamina and a bit of luck that divides France and Croatia
Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Moscow
An ‘El Clasico’ at the World Cup final. Actually, it’s well beyond the boundaries of ‘El Clasico’.
Both the finalists have a pair of Real Madrid and Barcelona players who are carrying their teams on their shoulders. Yes, there are others. But these twosomes have been outstanding contributors to their respective teams’ successes so far.
They are At the Luzhniki stadium on Sunday, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti for France and Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for Croatia will do whatever they can to outplay others.
However, at this juncture, nobody is interested in such small details. There are bigger issues to tackle. The biggest of them, definitely, will be the million-dollar question: Which team will hold the trophy for the next four-and-half years (since in 2022, the tournament in Qatar will start in November)?
The night has arrived at last, after thirty days of football.
A day before the grand finale, both teams had their final official press conferences.
“We are working on three words. Calm, confidence and concentration”, said Didier Deschamps.
“There is no pressure on us. I have told them to be relaxed, play their own game and enjoy their biggest night,” said Zlatko Dalic.
It seems, technical and tactical analysis are not at stake before the final. Both the teams are looking more at the mental aspect of the footballers. No more blackboards. It’s all about enjoying the occasion, playing with your heart. But will this be the case?
The last two all-European World Cup finals were decided by tie-breakers in 2006 when Italy had broken French hearts and Andres Iniesta scored that historic 117th-minute goal against the Netherlands in South Africa. Extra time, tie-breakers, Zinedine Zidane’s expulsion, Nigel De Jong allowed to be in the field despite his kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso – everything a World Cup final does not need. Will it be the same again?
The way France and Croatia have reached the final, suggest a different outcome. France have won five matches and although Croatia have reached the final with consecutive six wins, Fifa’s official stats show they have drawn two of their matches. France has never played beyond 90 minutes in the competition while Croatia has an enviable record of taking their opponents to the maximum distance and suffocating them. If there is an exciting talent of Kylian Mbappe upfront for France, Croatia can boast a seasoned Mario Mandzukic who will not hesitate to apply every dirty trick.
Modric used the word “God willing” twice in his press conference to say what would happen if Croatia wins. He and his coach spent more time explaining their relationship. Zlatko Dalic was confident that his players would come to him and say if they were not a hundred-per cent fit before such a contest since they are happier to contribute to the team’s cause.
Deschamps thought that his job was easier twenty years ago. “I was the captain, but I was an actor then. Now the effort is more mental. Sometimes fatigue takes over the mind.”
And then there is one indefatigable Ivan Rakitic who had played the semifinal even after running a fever the night before
All of these factors are leading to a final that promises to be eye-catching as well as intriguing at the Luzhniki on Sunday.