Tue | Aug 21, 2018

This is it! - Youthful France faces Croatia’s veterans for World Cup

Published:Sunday | July 15, 2018 | 12:44 AM
France's Samuel Umtiti, (right) celebrates with teammates Adil Rami, (centre) and Paul Pogba after defeating Belgium 1-0 to advance to the World Cup final.
Croatia's players celebrate after beating Nigeria.
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MOSCOW (AP): 

France are the established power with a young team full of speed and skill. Croatia have the veterans that have shown they can never be counted out.

The two sides will meet today in the World Cup final, with France going for their second title in their third final in 20 years. Croatia, a country that only gained independence in 1991, will be playing in their first.

“Tradition is there to be demolished,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said yesterday. “I’m not interested who is the opponent.”

Most consider France to be the favourites for the match at the Luzhniki Stadium, just like two years ago when the country’s national team faced Portugal in the European Championship final at home. But perhaps feeling complacent after beating Germany in the semi-finals, France flopped.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen again,” said France captain Hugo Lloris, who has been stellar in goal during this year’s tournament. “We are far from thinking on our side that we have already reached the goal.”

Lloris was the goalkeeper in that 1-0 loss in Paris, facing a Portugal team that had reached the final after some extra-time victories.

Croatia have done the same this year, needing penalty kicks to beat Denmark and host Russia before defeating England in extra time in the semi-finals.

France coach Didier Deschamps has made some changes to his team. However, 14 of the 23 players who made up the squad two years ago are still around.

Another factor in France’s favour is rest. The French had only two days of rest between the Euro 2016 semi-finals and the final. This time, they have four full days to recover, one more than Croatia.

Croatia have also played a lot more football in their six matches in Russia. With their last three matches going to extra time, they have played a full 90 minutes more than France.

There was also the added stress of two penalty shoot-outs.

That’s all behind them.

“Now, there is no pressure,” Dalic said through a translator. “Simply, this is the greatest moment in the life of all of us. We have come here to enjoy the final.”

Croatia have not beaten France in five games since being accepted as a FIFA federation member in 1992.

Both teams have played one game at the Luzhniki Stadium so far.

The past two World Cup finals were 0-0 after 90 minutes, and both were settled by a single goal in the second half of extra time.