FIFA World Cup 2018, final preview: A look at what to expect in the title showdown between France and Croatia at Moscow

France are the established powerhouse with a young team full of speed and skill. Croatia have the veterans that have shown they can never be counted out.

The two sides will meet on Sunday in the World Cup final, with France going for their second title in their third final in 20 years. Croatia, a country that only gained independence in 1991, will be playing in their first.

FIFA World Cup 2018, final preview: A look at what to expect in the title showdown between France and Croatia at Moscow

Antoine Griezmann and Luka Modric will play key roles for France and Croatia respectively in the final. AFP

Most consider France to be the favorites for the match at the Luzhniki Stadium, just like two years ago when the country's national team faced Portugal in the European Championship final at home.

But perhaps feeling complacent after beating Germany in the semi-finals, France flopped.

Lloris was the goalkeeper in that 1-0 loss in Paris, facing a Portugal team that had reached the final after some extra-time victories.

Croatia have done the same this year, needing penalties to beat Denmark and hosts Russia before defeating England in extra-time in the semi-finals.

France coach Didier Deschamps has made some changes to his team, however. Fourteen, to be exact, from the 23 players who made up the squad two years ago.

Another factor in France's favour is rest. The French had only two days of rest between the Euro 2016 semi-finals and the final. This time, they have four full days to recover, one more than Croatia.

Croatia have also played a lot more football in their six matches in Russia. With their last three matches going to extra-time, the team has played a full 90 minutes more than France. There was also the added stress of two penalty shootouts.

That's all behind them.

Here’s a look at what you can expect on Sunday at the World Cup in Russia:

Final at Luzhniki Stadium: France vs Croatia, 8.30 pm IST

Putin reappears

The Russian president has kept a fairly low profile at the World Cup considering he's more or less the man behind the tournament. Vladimir Putin attended the opening match a month ago in Moscow, a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia that kicked off a surprising quarter-final run for the home team. That's evidently the only football he's seen in person, though he has hosted a handful of events involving FIFA officials in and around Red Square, including a Saturday evening concert at the Bolshoi Theater.

Putin was to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Sunday ahead of the final, then attend the match at Luzhniki Stadium a short drive from the Kremlin before heading off to meet US President Donald Trump in Finland on Monday.

World Cup-class entertainment

If Putin is into Puerto Rican pop, he's in for a treat. The tournament's official song, "Live It Up," has showed up at World Cup stadiums about as often as Putin himself. It will be showcased Sunday when Will Smith joins singers Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi in performing it during the closing ceremony. The song is innocuous enough, but that doesn't mean some controversy couldn't crop up.

Though the three avoided anything sensitive during their news conference this week, Istrefi has ruffled feathers in the past on a topic that caused problems earlier in the tournament: An ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, she upset some conservative Serbs last year when she shot a music video inside an Orthodox Church. FIFA fined several Swiss players, also ethnic Albanians, who made pro-Albania symbols with their hands in a comeback win over Serbia in the group stage.

Who will take home the hardware

England's Harry Kane has six goals to his credit, making him a near lock to win the Golden Boot, awarded to the tournament's top scorer. The awards based on judgment calls are more up in the air. Croatia midfielder Luka Modric is a good bet to be named player of the tournament if he plays well again and Croatia win. But the Golden Ball could just as easily go to Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann if France triumph. Best goalkeeper? Maybe the toughest call of all. The two playing Sunday — France captain Hugo Lloris and Croatian sensation Danijel Subasic — and England's Jordan Pickford all have strong cases in a tournament where several keepers have excelled.

Oh, and that other trophy

Will France win their second World Cup, or Croatia their first? That could come down to the Croats' stamina. No team has played three extra-time matches in the same World Cup, as Croatia have done in its past three contests. Moreover, France have had one more day to prepare because their semi-final preceded Croatia's. "An extra 24 hours is a really big thing at this stage of the tournament," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez noted Saturday, allowing for what edge his side might have had in their 2-0 win over England in the third-place match.

On the other hand, Croatia have defied logic on this once already. They were faced with a fast, younger, relatively rested team in their semi-final against England, just as it is against France. After going down a goal, the Croats steadily grew stronger, controlling the game and beating opponents to the ball as if they were the ones with fresh legs, finally getting the winner in extra-time. France will be favored for a lot of other good reasons , but another upset shouldn't surprise anyone who's been watching Croatia or the rest of this upset-filled World Cup.

With inputs from AP

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Updated Date: Jul 15, 2018 10:57:06 IST

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