SMA News – Agencies – Sport It is a World Cup final few would have predicted.
Croatia face France at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday aiming to win a first major international trophy, while their opponents are in a third final in six World Cups and attempting to add a second title to the one they won in Paris 20 years ago.
The man leading them, Didier Deschamps, is in his third tournament in charge and hoping to become only the third person to lift the trophy as a player and manager.
His counterpart, Zlatko Dalic, has been Croatia manager for just nine months but is 90 minutes from winning football’s biggest prize and completing one of the more unlikely triumphs in World Cup history.
The view in Croatia: ‘Dream, dream, dream’
With a population of 4.17 million, you would think Croatia would be the smallest country to have reached a World Cup final. But that accolade goes to Uruguay, who won the inaugural competition in 1930 with an estimated population of about 1.7 million.
At 20th in Fifa’s world rankings, Dalic’s side are the lowest-ranked team to reach a World Cup final, and the 13th different nation to do so.
This is the furthest they have advanced in the competition, bettering their third-place finish 20 years ago, when their brilliant run was ended at the last four stage by… eventual champions France.
While this year’s semi-final victory shattered dreams in England, it sparked wild celebrations in Zagreb and beyond, with thousands of fans pouring onto the streets, singing, letting off flares and waving red, white and blue flags.
“Dream, Dream, Dream! Croatia are in the World Cup final,” said the Sportske Novosti newspaper, adding Dalic “has entered into legend” after surpassing the achievement of the 1998 team.
“The Fiery Ones are in the final, the nation is in a trance – one more step to the title!” said the Jutarnji List.
Davor Kovacevic, journalist with the Sportarena website, wrote: “They say we didn’t excite in our games. Who cares? We excited ourselves, that’s what matters. As if France did excite. And they are worth three to four time more than us.”
The view in France: ‘Healing the scar of 2016′
France reached the final of their home European Championship in 2016 but, despite being strong favourites to beat Portugal, they fell short.
The memories of that defeat are driving the team – and the country – this time.
The SudOuest newspaper sees Sunday as a chance to heal the “scar” of two years ago. This time, they say, “the context is different: the players have grown, and there’s Kylian Mbappe”. The forward is “on fire”, “inspires fear”, and is one of France’s “many weapons capable of breaking the Croatian siege”.
The French media have paid particular attention to their team’s extra preparation time for the final. They played their semi-final 24 hours before Croatia’s, and all their knockout ties have been won in normal time, while their opponents have needed extra time (and penalties twice) in each of their three games since the group stage.
According to Le Figaro, that is a “godsend” against a “talented and promising team capable of posing problems”.
For Le Point, it all comes down to the players’ states of mind. Despite the extra time, Croatia’s mental state has been “faultless” and the team “seems unbeatable”.