The 2018 World Cup is almost over. A number of huge upsets and surprising incidents made this once-in-every-four-year event remarkable.
The likes of Brazil, Germany, and Spain, having been eliminated early in the group stages is proof that the football world isn’t reserved for the big guns.
Even underdogs like England and Russia survived the early tribulation and somehow survived in the quarter-final and semis. However, the hopes of these two countries are through as France, and a surprising Croatian squad are the last teams left standing.
The final thriller is scheduled on Sunday, a day after the third-place game between Belgium and England on Saturday. Now, the World Cup 2018 odds have been updated, along with the numerous analyses on which team and players will dominate the biggest footballing event of the year.
The French armada is the clear favorite of the game, having top-tier players like Antoine Griezmann, KylianMbappe, and Paul Pogba. Meanwhile, the Croatians are the unsurprising underdogs knowing that they’re to be found on the backend of the World Cup rankings.
France gets -210 odds while Croatia has +175. On the other hand, the third-place game has the Belgian team as the likely winner with -135 odds, contrary to England's +115. Belgium was deemed as one of the strongest players right from the beginning.
In fact, the media labeled them as having their golden generation due to their superstar arsenal. Then again, England defied expectations as they made it deep into the tournament. Unfortunately, their campaign came to a halt after Croatia defeated them 2-1 in the sem-finals.
According to an analyzed prediction study, the final between France and Croatia will be a low-scoring game because of the way these two teams play since the start of the World Cup.
They've got players who aren't that focused offensively because they choose to strengthen their midfield and defensive lines. It's all about securing their bases that matters most for these finalists.
Because of this, it’s expected that it might not be a slug-fest as what most football fans want to have.
Take for example France’s blank on Belgium and Uruguay during the last two rounds. Croatia also managed to hold Harry Kane and stop him from inflicting any blows to the hopeful Croatian squad.
This alone is a huge feat knowing that Kane is the leading goal scorer in the tournament. But still, they managed to hold him up and overcome their highly-aggressive attacking lines.
Ivan Perisic and Domagoj Vida do great in their respective roles. The midfield and defensive lines of Croatia will surely be intact with their help. Even Ivan Rakitic can further support these two by switching corners as the game continues.
It’s a versatile Croatian squad, which is why the French shouldn’t take them easily. Some might say that the French can easily use their superstars Antoine Griezmann and KylianMbappe. Yes, sure, they can inflict a negative blow to the Croatians.
However, ZlatkoDalic also has a counter threat to these guys, and he’s Luka Modric. Modric, the 32-year-old Real Madrid forward is among the best players in the World Cup. Having him play against France is key to Croatia's supposed overcoming of the French strength.
Croatia is the second-smallest country to make it to the finals. They're also regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the World Cup, which is why having them play in the final is a huge achievement not only for the team but the rest of the country.
Croatia got knocked out of the Rio World Cup in the group stages and finished 19th. They didn’t even make it to the 2010 South Africa. The furthest they made it in the World Cup was in 1998 on France where they made it to the semi-final and finished third.
For sure, the team and the country's hype and confidence have boosted for Sunday's big game.
France's smooth transition to the final
Les Bleus were among the teams confident that they'd make it big in Russia this year. This is despite their surprising loss at the Euro 2016 in home soil. Losing a crucial game in your own country could have spelled the end of any team's confidence to continue, but not for France.
And though the French squad is packed with superstars, Coach Didier Deschamps chose not to exploit them in one way or another. Instead, he chose to implement a conservative and balanced approach to their games.
It proved effective as it helped them reach the final, though not in the fashion that most analysts expected them too. Well, it served them just right.
Just look at Argentina who depended heavily on Lionel Messi, and Brazil who gave Neymar and Philippe Coutinho free reign on carrying their team. Good thing Deschamps had advanced thinking as he foreseen how this World Cup will turn out.
Gone are the days when explosiveness and heroic plays are the keys to victories. Now, it's all about outsmarting your competition and finding their loopholes.
Effective pacing and gaining momentum is the game today, and that’s what brought Les Bleus on the verge of World Cup domination.
What makes things even more interesting about France is that the goals came from unlikely sources. Having center backs scoring their victories at the quarterfinal and semifinal might seem strange and unorthodox, but they still pulled it through with style.
Even the young Mbappe, who’s still 19-years-old managed to compete together with the world’s best footballers.
His lack of experience was nowhere to be seen all-competition long, which suggests that he don’t mind all his critics and naysayers that bash him for his lack of international playing experience. After all, he’s got veterans who can back him up any time he wishes to lie a bit low.
There are Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud who can guide him in crucial moments. Having someone catch your back is what the French are good at, and that might be what’ll make a difference once they face Croatia this Sunday.
And as long as they stay composed, just like how they performed against Belgium and Uruguay, then there’s no doubt that can get this year’s title.
Croatia: the World Cup’s dark horse
Croatia won versus Greece in November, and just recently with a final score of 2-0 versus Ukraine.
It goes to show how skilled their players are, with one of the best talents among the batch being Modrić, who has played a role in the titles of Real Madrid which have been consecutively earned thrice.
Despite their recent string of Victories, Vatreni almost didn’t make it to this year’s World Cup, thanks to their former coach, Ante Čačić being sacked just days before the final qualifier they were scheduled to play in.
Indeed, they were stellar during the group stages of the World Cup, The knockouts, however, is a grind that’s unprecedented, with opponents who are, theoretically, not as good, causing them to go over the prescribed time limit across the three games.
None of the members of the so-called “golden generation” were able to do what Croatia has done, where the first generation of such players hailing from the country to make it to the semi-finals way back in 1998, or 20 years ago.
They never made it past the groups until now, hence making it their best shot in the World Cup yet. All that they really have to do is to make it past France, whom they have played for 90 minutes more, and a country that’s tested in a different way than the said team.
Should they be the winners for this year, then they will be making history as only countries that have been making it a point to hone and develop their reputation in the world of Football have been winning the title since the World Cup’s inception.
Goodbye World Cup for Kane
With the defeat of England versus Croatia, it’s a goodbye for Charles Kane and their chance at being the title-holders for this year.
All of this, thanks to Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic’s goals, as well as the opener of Kieran Trippier 5 minutes into the game, which effectively caused 1-0 deficit overturn and a 2-1 after some more time in Moscow.
It’s more than just how well they managed the ball over at Luzhniki Stadium, but it was about the energy levels that they had, where they had so much of it that they struck a deal for more time in the place.
Croatia, as well as Perisic, spelled doom over England just 22 minutes shy of the final, with them being the only people who are to blame for all that has happened. The break was indeed, a great breather for the Croatian team, with their second-half stint now having a better purpose and higher energy levels.
A refreshed and recharged Croatian team was no match for England, who failed to keep things in control in the midfield area. This was indeed, a World Cup that was more than what they expected, and they deserved to step up and win this game, putting a lot into consideration.
Alli was injured on the thighs during their first game and indeed has taken its toll on his fitness. Before the tournament started, he was the flattering type, seemingly making a fool of others on the spotlight.
This is in a stark contrast to Perisic, who has shown, from the start, that he was in it and deserves to have been there.
Through tweets and posts, Kane and Marcus both expressed their disappointments, being hurt that the game didn’t go well, that the plans which should have led them to win caused their defeat instead.
Nevertheless, they promise that despite the tough times, they will be back. Lingard also was quick to assure that the team was composed of strong players who had the makings of a star in sports, having the willingness to gain more knowledge, as well as give it all that they can.
After a dominant and good first quarter of the hour, in the game’s second half they were having difficulty keeping it together, getting the ball in their power, lagging behind, after coming across as the frontrunners, Southgate admits it was hard.
A couple of attacks on their part were left undefended, but he complements how the players were able to recuperate and take control of things again. At best, they had as big of a chance in winning as Croatia does, and for him, it's really sad at how they conceded early.
It may be a disappointment, but nevertheless, was still a great opportunity for the team of young players to learn.
Croatians and a non-vengeful heart
While it seems like it’s the semifinals of 1998 all over again, where Croatia lost to France, Zlatko Dalic doesn’t have revenge against the opposing team in mind. That time, a goal by Davor Sucker, 46 minutes into the game was nullified by two strikes from Lilian Thuram.
It was a rough road to the finals for Zlatko and their team, beating out Kieran Trippier’s early goal for a 2-1 score, and they are willing to put behind what happened in 1998 for the final game.
Dalic remembers the match, as he as a supporter back then, and was in France at that same year, watching for the first set of games. The whole of Croatia was shaken, following a 2-1 loss following Thuram’s score.
The goal of Suker was a great source of celebration back then, but as soon as it happened, it was evened out.
While it’s something that the Croatians still talk about, 20 years on, it’s football at the end of the day, and it’s best that they would focus on doing their best during the tournament.
Additional time, as well as penalties, had to get past by Croatia from Russia and Denmark, before being winners in their match versus England.
The Croatian side got stronger the deeper into the match they were getting, with him complimenting the grit of his team, as well as their burning desire to pit themselves against the Three Lions in a match.
The whole team was just full of positivity, where the energy levels were high, there was strength and of course, stamina to survive one match to the next. As their coach, Dalic wanted to serve as a sub, but everyone believed they didn’t need one.
As a matter of fact, some of them had minor injuries while playing, where in other instances they should not have been playing, and surprisingly, it did not show at all.
All of these endearing, bold, courageous actions by the team, their dedication, and their being ready in during the extra time that was given has made him a really proud coach with no one surrendering. At the end of the day, all of this paid off.
How are the teams doing so far?
As the last two teams standing, all eyes are on Croatia and France. The former, an underdog, never winning the World Cup yet, and the latter being one of the front-runners, already having won before.
France’s Mbappe was one of the greatest players to watch, thanks to his great creativity and speed on the field, with Griezmann being a terrific finisher for the team. Both teams are okay regarding player discipline, as none of them have been suspended so far, and the France team’s health is in good condition.
Croatia, on the other hand, as positive as their minds are, may be lacking in the physical realm, as a number of players have sustained minor injuries already, after extra time during their knockouts.
This may give France an edge, more than just the mathematics used to calculate odds of football matches, as explained above. Croatia, on the other hand, has managed to prove that the mind plays a huge role in determining one’s victory.
It would be, however, interesting to see where their positivity and determination as a whole team would take them. No matter how much predicting and forecasting we do, the only way to truly know is to wait and see the whole match to take place.
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