The 2018 World Cup is nearing its close as the stage has been set for the finals on Sunday.
The championship match will feature France and Croatia; just like everyone predicted, right?
Coming into the World Cup, France surprised some people by not bringing stars like Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial and Aymeric Laporte with them to Russia. It has proven to work for Didier Deschamps as goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, striker Antoine Griezmann and the 19 year old Kylian Mbappe have been phenomenal for the French.
France started the tournament off in what could be considered the most challenging group of Russia 2018. They managed to win the group, as expected, with seven points as they beat 39th ranked Australia and 11th ranked Peru before ending the group stage with a draw against 12th ranked Denmark.
Their route to the finals did not seem to be getting any easier as they were set to face Argentina in the round of 16. Fortunately for France, Lionel Messi’s World Cup struggles continued on and the French came out with a 4-3 win.
France were then presented with a Luis Suarez- led Uruguay team that looked very strong after beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Uruguay knocked on the door quite a few times, but the absence of striker Edinson Cavani was too much for them to overcome resulting in France taking the win 2-0.
The star-studded matchups for France did not stop with Uruguay as Belgium became the team they would face next in the semis. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne were not enough for Belgium as a goal in the 51st minute put France through to the championship match.
Croatia has been a different story in the tournament. Not very many people expected them to be in the position they are now. Some people didn’t think Croatia would even escape the group stage.
Despite being a slight underdog, Croatia convincingly won their group with nine points. After defeating two very talented teams in Argentina and Nigeria 3-0 and 2-0 respectively, they finished off their impressive group stage run with a 2-1 win over a scrappy Iceland team.
Croatia was definitely on the easier side of the bracket heading into the round of 16, which led some people to believe that whoever won that side would win it all due to the other side of the bracket beating each other up.
The round of 16 game against Denmark and the quarterfinal game against Russia both ended with Croatia winning in penalties.
The semifinal match against England was the hardest matchup Croatia had faced the entire tournament. Harry Kane and Dele Alli had all of England claiming that football was coming home. They became even more confident as they went up early 1-0. England should have known better than to think it was over.
Croatia had gone down a goal in every elimination game before coming back to tie and eventually win, and they did the same to England.
Ivan Perisic tied the game in the 68th minute, leading to two periods of extra time. It looked as if Croatia were going to astonishingly go into penalties for the third game in a row until Mario Mandzukic buried a goal in extra time to upset England and send Croatia to the World Cup final for the first time in the team’s history.
France is the favorite to win the championship game. They have an extra day of rest and will also be facing a Croatia team that has played extra time for three straight games. France can’t underestimate Croatia’s ability to pull off the upset, though.
Croatia, like France, is a very talented group with some big name club players. Luka Modric, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Rakitic, and Dejan Lovren will be sure to put up a strong fight. France won’t win without great effort.
Will France win its second ever World Cup or will Croatia win its first? The match is set to begin at 10 a.m. CT on Sunday, July 15.
Author: Madison Parham
Madison Parham received a B.S. in Sport and Recreation Management from the University of North Alabama in 2018. She has played soccer for fifteen years, including two years of collegiate ball at the JuCo and DII levels. She has become a regular guest of the Mississippi Sports Talk Today radio show with Craig Horton where she has interviewed legendary coaches and professional athletes from the South. She will continue at North Alabama as a graduate assistant while working toward a Master of Science in Health and Human Performance with a concentration in Sports Management. She will also direct sporting events for ESPN and Lion Vision.