Shocks, upsets, drama, and football of the highest quality – this World Cup has had it all.
France, winners of the tournament in 1998 and one of the favourites from the beginning, face Croatia- one of the 6 nations that comprised of Yugoslavia from ,have never won a World Cup in their short history. The third place match also features an all-European clash as England, looking to achieve their best World Cup finish since 1966, face a Belgium looking to win their first bronze medal. It’s sad to bid farewell to such a thrilling World Cup which will definitely be marked in history as one of the best, but we have no doubt that the two final matches will live up to the standards set and provide us a fitting end.
France vs. Croatia
France: Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappe
Croatia: Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic
Almost nobody expected Croatia to make it this far, yet here they are! This Croatian team is described as the nation’s ‘golden generation’ due to the elite players who comprise the team. None are more elite than midfielder Luka Modrić, who has been pivotal in the team’s journey to the final. If there was a player of the tournament award, the 32-year-old Real Madrid superstar would be in serious contention. Croatia will hope to continue the impressive form they showed against England, where as Modrić quotes “they completely dominated the game.”
A lot has been expected from this France team, and they have delivered. They had a slow start to the campaign with mediocre performances in the group stages however have picked up their game during the group stages. This France team has seen the rise of 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe from teenage talent to international superstar. He burst onto the scene in the first knockout game against Argentina scoring two and assisting another, and has continued to put in impressive performances. France will also have the advantage of having comparatively fresher players. In addition to having a day less of rest, Croatia’s players have been subject to extra time play in each of their knockout fixtures. Collectively, the additional 90 minutes plus 2 penalty shootouts could take a toll physically and mentally on the players. France will be seeking to capitalise on this with their blistering pace up front embodied by Mbappe.
I suspect we see a tactical matchup similar to that of France’s semi-final fixture with Belgium. Belgium dominated the first quarter of the match, and had multiple close opportunities on goal. If any one of them went in, we may be seeing a very different final fixture. Croatia will look to emulate Belgium’s early performance, with Modric playing a similar role to De Bruyne as a playmaker. The key to a Croatia victory will not only lie in bossing the midfield but also their defence’s ability to cut off any French counter-attack. France will be forced to be more creative and clinical to break a compact Slavic defence, but I believe they will find a breakthrough and win their second World Cup.
Author’s Prediction: France win 1-0
England vs. Belgium
England: Kane, Pickford, Sterling
Belgium: De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku
The World Cup 3rd place match is a rather peculiar fixture. It’s been dubbed sport’s ‘least-loved fixture’ and calls have been made for it to be scrapped. Players and fans alike are rather demoted and the game is shadowed by the final fixture. Nevertheless, we have two youthful and talented teams, and as Harry Kane mentions “We want to finish the World Cup on a high.”
If both teams had taken their chances in the semi-finals, this could well have been the finals fixture. Belgium couldn’t capitalise, let France grow into the game, and conceded a corner goal. England threw away an early 1-0 lead, and were subsequently outplayed by Croatia. This is the second time the teams have faced each other in the tournament, the first being the final match of the group stages where each team started a B team in a 1-0 victory for Belgium.
England have gone beyond expectation at the tournament. Fans and critics alike expected no more than a quarter-final for a youthful, inexperienced England team with a poor record in international tournaments. England have more than accomplished their expectations, but more importantly have won the support and admiration of a nation. English football at tournaments and misery have been synonymous for the past two decades, however, there seems to be a newfound case of optimism with this young, exciting and talented group. England were 20 minutes away from a final, but their inexperience showed as they lost control of the rest of the game. 9 out of 12 of England’s goals have come from set pieces, an intimidating statistic for Belgium. England still have to however focus on finishing chances from open play, which could be the key in this game. I feel Belgium’s attack will prove just too strong for England and they will achieve their first 3rd place finish.
Author’s Prediction: Belgium win 2-1
By: Arya Krishnan