France vs Croatia Preview: Les Bleus and Vatreni to do battle in World Cup final

Both France and Croatia are yet to lose in this year's World Cup, but there can be only one winner as Russia's historic tournament comes to a close in Moscow.

France vs Croatia Preview: Les Bleus and Vatreni to do battle in World Cup final
Kylian Mbappe will be key for France if they are to win their second World Cup.

The 2018 World Cup will reach its climax on Sunday with the final between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

France are favourites to win their second World Cup after their 1998 triumph on home soil.

Croatia are vying for their first World Cup in their first ever final, and their underdog label will suit them perfectly after being branded with a similar tag before their victory over England on Wednesday. 

Contrasting roads to Moscow

France's run to the final has been nothing short of treacherous, first having to overcome 2014 runners-up Argentina in the Round of 16 after three tepid group stage matches saw them qualify as group winners. 

The 2006 runners-up then took on a compact and defensively stubborn Uruguay side in the quarter-finals, triumphing 2-0 thanks to goals from Raphael Varane and Antoine Griezmann.

The semi-finals presented them with an opportunity to prolong bragging rights over European neighbours Belgium - which Les Bleus capitalised on with a 1-0 win in St Petersburg to reach the final and break Belgian hearts. 

Croatia's path to the final has been comparatively tame, beginning with a laboured penalty shoot-out victory over Denmark after a 1-1 stalemate.

Zlatko Dalić's side's fatigue will have extended even further when hosts Russia dragged them to their second shoot-out of the tournament, with the Croatians emerging victorious again after a thrilling 2-2 draw inside 120 minutes. 

Croatia sealed their first ever final place with an extra time triumph over 1966 winners England, coming from behind to win 2-1 at the Luzhniki.

France to finally reach their potential?

It almost seems as if France have coasted to this year's World Cup final, despite the calibre of teams they have faced in their road to Moscow.

They were, of course, named as one of the pre-tournament favourites to lift the most coveted prize in football - but who actually thought it would have been this easy?

France's victories - Argentina aside - have been low-key and methodical, with Didier Deschamps opting to wear the opposition down and score only the goals they need to.

If it comes off in the final - he's a French hero. If it doesn't - he's a villain.

France certainly have the talent to blow any team out of the water. 

Les Bleus' most impressive player so far has been the mercurial Kylian Mbappe, who stands equal with fellow forward Griezmann on three goals each (a final hattrick is required to trouble Harry Kane). The PSG man's pace and directness will cause Croatia's ageing backline no end of problems - similar to Raheem Sterling in Wednesday's semi-final.

Mbappe and Griezmann will also have one eye on the Golden Ball, knowing that a Man of the Match display could shift the odds in their favour. 

Croatia won't be the toughest test France have faced (on paper), but if Croatia can grab an early goal it will be very interesting to see how the world's most talented squad will react.

Fatigue to play a part for Croatia?

There's no doubting that Croatia are an immensely talented side - their midfield in particular - but how have they been so poor at winning games within 90 minutes?

England aside, they should have had the quality to dispatch Denmark and Russia and spare themselves the injury worries. 

Croatia fell behind in each of their three knockout games, so there's no way France will be resting on their laurels if they find themselves ahead.

That is a mentality coach Dalić will have worked long and hard to install in his team, and one they must remember if they find themselves with a chance to grab an unfancied victory.

Croatia's biggest asset is Luka Modric, with the Real Madrid midfielder playing an instrumental part in leading his side to their first-ever final, and establishing himself as a leading candidate for the Golden Ball.

Modric has played more minutes than anyone else at Russia 2018, scoring twice and contributing an assist. 

Modric also deserves praise for bouncing back to score in the shoot-out after his penalty miss against Denmark, which showed exactly why Dalić has installed him as captain.

The ex-Spurs man must lead by example yet again on Sunday and rally his tired troops if they are to head home heroes. 

Head-to-head: Croatia to get 1998 revenge?

France have never lost to Croatia, winning three of their five meetings. The last two meetings in 2004 and 2011 ended in 2-2 and 0-0 draws respectively. 

The most famous (and first) meeting between the two sides came in the 1998 World Cup semi-final at the Stade de France in Paris.

France emerged victorious thanks to a brace from Lillian Thuram, setting up a final clash against Brazil.

Now coach Deschamps captained the France side that day. 

Team news and predicted lineups

Croatia look to be at full strength - despite their three extra-time displays in the knockout phase - with Mario Mandzukic and left-back Ivan Strinic set to shake off minor problems to play in the biggest game of their lives. 

Predicted Croatia XI: SUBASIC; VRSALJKO, LOVREN, VIDA, STRINIC; BROZOVIC, REBIC, MODRIC, RAKITIC, PERISIC; MANDZUKIC.

France's only injury worry is Blaise Matuidi, who suffered a possible concussion in his collision with Eden Hazard on Tuesday.

The Juventus midfielder is expected to start.

Predicted France XI: LLORIS; PAVARD, VARANE, UMTITI, HERNANDEZ; KANTE, POGBA; MBAPPE, GRIEZMANN, MATUIDI; GIROUD.