The World Cup final is the perfect game for a tournament that has presented us with so many intriguing narratives.
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Title: France vs Croatia: Head-to-head, stats and what history predicts for the World Cup final
No side has worked harder at this World Cup than Croatia. Some might even say that they are the hardest working finalists of all time.
They’ve been behind in all of their knockout games, they’ve gone to extra-time thrice and to penalty shootouts twice. Before taking on England, few thought they had the stamina to come through yet another epic. Somehow, they did.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subašić played with a pinged hamstring against Denmark. It would have left most of us tapping out in ordinary circumstances, never mind taking up penalty-saving duty in a crunch clash at a major tournament. Subašić has made 12 saves at the tournament so far (which puts him joint-eighth out of all keepers).
Orchestrating these gargantuan efforts from the midfield is Luka Modric. He has created 16 chances at this World Cup, twice as many as any of his team-mates.
It’s an extraordinary story of real underdog grit and a big win for teamwork.
France, too, have been fine example for spreading the workload, even with a squad packed with established names and up-and-coming teenage sensations.
This tournament has been nigh on impossible to predict and the final is no different. Les Bleus may hold just the slightest of edges because of their defensive work. The goals conceded difference is negligible – France four, Croatia five – but Didier Deschamps’ charges do know how to protect a lead once they have it, even if it doesn’t always please everyone.
Against Argentina in the last 16 the match swung wildly, but they learned their lesson and took a miserly approach against Belgium, which beaten goalie Thibaut Courtois referred to as “anti-football”.
As with Croatia, France have midfield maestros who have been somewhat understated at this tournament. Paul Pogba, who had a nightmare at club level last season, has commanded the controlled chaos around him by passing, intercepting and generally being a nuisance. Pogba, and the rest of the midfield contingent, have allowed the forwards to feast on their pace.
And when that plan hasn’t worked, they’ve showed that they are adaptable and the team completely selfless.
Olivier Giroud, yet to score in Russia, is perhaps the best example. In the group game against Australia the trio of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé could not find a way through.
The coach called on Giroud, but it was obvious his job wasn’t to surge forward. Instead, in the minutes that followed, Giroud and Pogba combined with a bit of one-two footwork. While the winning goal was credited to the unfortunate Australian Aziz Behich, it was continuous pressing from the French pair that created the pressure.
And so we are set for a truly special final, even more difficult to predict than the preceding semis. Even the stats, as you will see, give no hint as to what we might see in our crystal balls.
France vs Croatia: Head-to-head and other stats
Not many matches between these two sides and France have never lost to Croatia. Two wins for Les Bleus and three draws. One of those victories came in 1998 in the World Cup semi-final. France won 2-1 in regulation time and went on to lift the trophy in Paris.
France came from a goal down in that match with Lilian Thuram scoring a brace, the only two goals in his 142-cap career.
France are just the sixth country to reach three or more World Cup finals, following in the footsteps of Germany (eight), Brazil and Italy (both six), Argentina (five) and the Netherlands (three).
Croatia, meanwhile, are the 13th different nation to reach a World Cup final. If you’re supporting the Croats and looking for signs, the previous two first-time finalists both won the tournament (France in 1998 and Spain in 2010).
No other side has received more yellow cards (14) or conceded more fouls (99) at this World Cup than Croatia.
Croatia have scored in their last ten World Cup games since a 0-0 draw with Japan in 2006.
France have been behind for just nine minutes at this World Cup while the Croats have gone behind in all three of their knockout games.
French coach Didier Deschamps could become only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and as coach, after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer.
Three of France’s five scorers at this World Cup have been defenders (Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti). The last time that happened was in 1998 when they lifted the trophy.
What history predicts for the World Cup final
The stats tell us that both sides should win and we should just watch them do battle until the end of days. France have the marginal edge on paper, but Croatia have come back from the brink so often that they are probably running on adrenaline pure enough to power them to victory in a match that carried on for all of infinity. DM