France-Croatia sees tradition meet faith
France may not have invented football, but they were behind the first World Cup, through the figure of Jules Rimet, the creator of this amazing event which wholeheartedly grabs our attention every four years. In this final France represent tradition – not only with respect to the World Cup but also the European Cup and the Euros, not to mention the Olympic Games and the Tour de France beyond football. An ancient nation with an ancient federation, and a footballing history which includes one World Cup victory (and two tournaments organised on French soil) and two European Championships. Moreover, they have given us some of the finest players ever to have graced the game in Kopa, Platini and Zidane.
France have reached the final with a good side, blessed in every position with highly competent, and in some cases brilliant, players. They have a good keeper, good full-backs and central defenders, and a powerful midfield, despite missing the ball-playing Rabiot and Payet, a decision made by Deschamps, whose other ideas involved playing Griezmann in a more combative set-up. And in attack the brilliance of Mbappé, albeit in flashes, and Giroud, a tireless battler. I remember France teams that shone brighter, but this one has a kind of brutal efficiency that has enabled Les Bleus to beat Uruguay, the side with the meanest defence in the tournament, and Belgium, the one with the most flamboyant attack.
Croatia and faith
Croatia is the youngest country at this World Cup and finds strength in faith, not tradition. Those lads we see playing out there are children of war who have seen their country rise from the rubble of the old Yugoslavia and who have learned that life is not easy. Their journey here has been heroic, shaped by comebacks, extra-time, and two penalty shootouts, and all achieved with minimum fuss. Kalinic refused to come off the bench at the end of their group game against Nigeria and was sent home by Dalic, but no one protested because an example was set. You only have to watch Modric's tireless running to know that this team gives absolutely nothing away.
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