There's a David v Goliath battle in the World Cup final but will France prove just one game too far for Croatia? Paul Higham has two best bets for the big game in Moscow.
France v Croatia recommended bets
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France v Croatia (1600 BST, BBC One/ITV)
There’s more than a hint of David and Goliath about the World Cup final as France take on Croatia in Moscow.
Croatia, a relatively newly independent country with a population of just four million, have scraped through three tough rounds of knockout football, going the full 120 minutes in every one and needing penalties to settle two.
They’ve had to come from behind in all three of these games and have had to battle every inch of the way – and all with just 22 players after Nikola Kalinic was sent home following their opening game.
The effort has been herculean, but it’s not been without a huge measure of skill, guile and game management as well – and that’s why at 4/1 to win in 90 minutes and 2/1 to lift the World Cup they’re probably a bit overpriced given their obvious talents.
The huge question is, however, whether they can go to the well one last time and drag out another performance against a well-rested, powerful, pragmatic French team that’s amazingly only been behind for nine minutes in this tournament.
Teams who have won their semi-final in extra time have only won one of the last seven finals they’ve been involved in – that being West Germany at Italia '90 when Argentina also went the distance in their semi - and Croatia have had three lots of overtime to deal with.
Didier Deschamps’ side are odds-on to win a second World Cup for good reason. They’ve kept four clean sheets in six games, stifling the opposition defences and leaning on Kylian Mbappe’s pace and Antoine Griezmann’s finishing to pinch games.
It's not been pretty, but it's not all been 'anti-football' stuff as when they were drawn into a slugfest by Argentina they came out with a thrilling 4-3 victory, so they can obviously go toe-to-toe with anybody when Deschamps lets them off the leash.
In a game of this magnitude though Deschamps will stick to his guns, get his team into a solid defensive shape to limit time and space for Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic and cut off supply to wide men Ante Rebic and Ivan Perisic.
The half-time draw seems a rock-solid bet given how France play, but best odds of 19/20 are a little prohibitive, whereas the best price for draw-France in that market is a more reasonable 39/10 and probably the way to go for backers of Les Bleus.
World Cup finals are rarely classics, the last three have all gone to extra time and the last two have been 0-0 draws so 11/2 on either team to win in extra time is certainly of some appeal if another tight, tense tussle breaks out in Moscow.
Both France centre-halves Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti have scored in the knockouts and with Croatia having been undone at set pieces in Russia some bookies are running scared with the pair as short at 9/1 to score anytime in the final – while they’re both a best price of 16/1.
Ivan Perisic is of most interest for Croatia at a best priced 13/2 to score his seventh goal in a major tournament. He covered every blade of grass against England and looked dangerous every time he made that out-to-in run that's so hard to mark - France right back Benjamin Pavard will have to watch him like a hawk.
A fairytale Croatia win is possible if they can buck their recent trend and score first for once to give the French a rare taste of being behind in a game – otherwise this France defence may prove to be a mountain too big to climb even for such a dedicated group of players.
Prediction: France 2-1 Croatia (Sky Bet odds: 9/1)
Best Bet: Antoine Griezmann anytime scorer 19/10
- France and Croatia have faced five times previously, with France winning three of those games (in 1998, 1999 and 2000) and the other two games ending as draws (2004 and 2011).
- Two of France and Croatia’s five meetings have been at major tournaments. France won 2-1 against Croatia in the semi-final of the 1998 World Cup – with Didier Deschamps playing the full match – while their meeting at Euro 2004 ended in a 2-2 draw in the group stage.
- The last three World Cup finals have all gone to extra-time. However, historically, only two of the showpiece games have ever been decided on penalties (1994, 2006).
- France have reached their third World Cup final, winning one (1998) and losing the other on penalties (2006). Their three appearances in finals since 1998 is also more than any other team over the last 20 years, ahead of Brazil and Germany (2).
- Croatia have reached their first World Cup final, becoming the 13th different nation and 10th European country to do so. The last two first-time finalists have both won the tournament (France in 1998 and Spain in 2010), while the last to lose were the Netherlands in 1974.
- France have trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds at the 2018 World Cup, while Croatia have been behind in all three of their knockout matches.
- Excluding shootouts, France have won 11 of their last 14 games in the knockout stages of the World Cup (D2 L1).
- Croatia progressed from their three knockout matches at the 2018 World Cup via either extra-time or penalties – no team has ever played extra-time in four different matches at a single World Cup; the others to play in three extra-time matches are Belgium (1986), England (1990) and Argentina (2014).
- Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted 11 goals in nine knockout games at major tournaments (World Cup + Euro), more than any other player for France over the last 50 years ahead of Zinedine Zidane (8) and Michel Platini (6).
- France’s Kylian Mbappé will be looking to become only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final after Pelé, in 1958. Mbappé (3 goals) is already the highest scoring teenager in a World Cup tournament since Pelé (6 in 1958).
- Olivier Giroud has yet to have a single shot on target at this World Cup despite playing 465 minutes for France. Since 1966, no player has had more attempts (13) in a single tournament without getting one on target.
- Didier Deschamps is looking to become the third person to win the World Cup as a player and as manager after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer. He’s won 73% of his games at the World Cup (8 out of 11), the best ratio for a manager having taken charge of more than 10 games at the tournament.
- Only France’s Antoine Griezmann (2 goals, 2 assists) has been directly involved in more goals than Mario Mandzukic (2 goals, 1 assist) in the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup.
- Ivan Perisic has been involved in 10 goals at major tournaments for Croatia (6 goals, 4 assists), the joint-most along with Davor Suker (9 goals, 1 assist).
- If Raphael Varane plays, he’ll become the fifth French player to have played in both the Champions League and World Cup finals in the same year, after Thierry Henry (2006), Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Christian Karembeu (all 1998). Varane was victorious in the Champions League, while of the other four only Karembeu was triumphant in both finals.