France Heads Into World Cup Final as Favorite Over Surprising Croatian Squad

France will look to collect their second World Cup title in the country’s history on Sunday, when they will be favored over a surprising Croatian team that has made an unforgettable run to the tournament final.

World Cup Final France Croatia

French players celebrate after Samuel Umtiti (5) scored the only goal in France’s 1-0 win over Belgium in the 2018 FIFA World Cup semifinal. (Image: Sky Sports)

France has previously won the World Cup in 1998, when the country hosted the tournament, while this is Croatia’s first time ever reaching the final.

Croatia Continues Magical Run

Croatia advanced to Sunday’s finale after coming from behind to defeat England 2-1 in extra time on Wednesday. While England took the lead in the first five minutes of the match, Croatia dominated the second half to tie the game, with Mario Mandzukic scoring the winning goal a few minutes into the second half of extra time.

It wouldn’t be fair to say Croatia came out of nowhere. They have made it as far as the World Cup semifinal before, and came into this tournament with a squad that features talented players who compete alongside some of their French counterparts on Europe’s most prestigious club teams.

Still, the Croatians weren’t considered a serious contender coming into the tournament, making their run one of the best stories of a World Cup filled with compelling twists and turns.

“This is a miracle,” Mandzukic said after his team’s win over England. “Only great teams can be as brave as we were and fight from a goal down against teams like England.”

Croatia will go into Sunday as the second smallest nation ever to reach the World Cup final, boasting a population of just under 4.2 million. Only Uruguay was smaller, with an estimated population of 1.7 million when they won the tournament in 1930.

France Wants Redemption for 2016 Euro Final

France, on the other hand, has been one of the world’s preeminent soccer nations over the past 20 years, not only winning the World Cup in 1998 but also reaching a second final in 2006. The French have now reached their third final in two decades thanks to a 1-0 win over Belgium that was decided by a Samuel Umtiti header in the 51st minute.

While France has enjoyed plenty of success in recent memory, there have still been failures that will motivate the team and their manager, Didier Deschamps. In 2016, France was favored to win the European Championship, but lost 1-0 to Portugal in extra time on home soil.

“Two years ago, I remember what happened two years ago,” Deschamps said after the semifinal victory over Belgium. “We will go into this final to win it, as we have still not gotten over the [European] final.”

A win by France on Sunday would erase any memories of coming up short in 2016, and Les Bleus are a strong favorite to win their second World Cup. William Hill has made France the 4/9 favorite to win the title, with Croatia offered at 7/4.

Those backing France might be tempted to take 10/11 odds that they will win in regulation in order to make a bit more cash if the favorites prevail. But that could be dangerous: Croatia has gone to extra time in all three of their knockout matches so far, twice winning on penalties.

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