France has come a long way from the shameful scenes of their South Africa 2010 World Cup debacle. Player revolts in the camp put to shame, France’s famed racial tolerance and up to today, the French nation speaks about the SA 2010 World Cup campaign in whispers. But since then, the French national team, has been overhauled and rebuilt and has been on a upward trajectory. Quarter-finalists in Brazil and losing finalists as hosts of Euro 2016, they will start this final as favourites and my pick to lift a second World Cup trophy in their history.
Deciding factors in this final:
1. Fatigue: This will be a factor. France played their semi final a day earlier. And in their knock out games enroute to the final, France have taken care of all their opponents in 90 minutes. Whilst all of Croatia’s knock out matches enroute to the final have gone to extra time and two of them against Denmark and Russia in the round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively, required penalties to decide them.
True Croatia found an extra gear in the second half and extra time of their semi final clash with England, but particularly in the first half, they looked jaded. Against a more polished side, Croatia would’ve been dead and buried by half time.
2. Big game temperament: Big games don’t come any bigger than the World Cup final. And such occasions require calm and cool heads. And here France hold an edge. France were particularly impressive, despite cynicism from some Belgium quarters, in how they managed their match against Belgium in the semis. And under coach Didier Deschamps, a World Cup winner himself as a player, have someone of experience in what it takes to win it.
But Croatia too have experienced players in their ranks who ply their trade at some of the biggest clubs in Europe, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Juventus etc. Players who are used to taking part in big and pressure games.
3. Midfield: Croatia posess technically gifted players in their midfield. Players who use the ball intelligently. But France with Ngolo Kante and Paul Pogba alongside him, have looked solid in midfield too. The work rate of Kante and Blaise Matuidi is impressive. While Pogba has found a new confidence about himself and defensive discipline. Pogba is keeping things in midfield neat and simple, and he has an eye for a piercing pass to his forwards. A tight final, but France’s to lose!
*The writer is a three-time UPL winner with SC Villa and played in two African finals (1991 & 1992)