Just two countries have only won the World Cup on home soil and there was a potential final this time that could have brought them together. France won their own World Cup in 1998 and England were world champions in 1966 at their own tournament. Croatia did not read the script so they meet France in Moscow in Saturday’s final while England play Belgium the previous night in the match that determines which countries finish third and fourth.
Usually I’d say that the third place playoff is the most meaningless fixture in the sport. It matches the two losing semi-finalists who just want to go home. Motivation and team selection will be key and both teams will want to end the tournament on a high. However, deep down the players will be yearning to be playing in the final. England and Belgium had chances but ultimately Croatia and France were better teams and deserve their place in the final. England can reward the fans with a win in this match nobody wants to play.
Croatia were second best against England in the first half. They were outpaced at the back and created very little going forward. Crucially England did not score the second goal and Croatia were still in the match. They took the game to England in the second half and created numerous crossing opportunities and one paid dividends. Extra time was even but Croatia had more drive and scored a deserved winner and England came up just short. All roads now lead to the final of Euro 2020 at Wembley.
Belgium were the equal of France in the other semi-final but lost to a set piece goal. There was very little between the sides but Belgium could not break down the French defence. There were few clear cut chances and France won the battle of the superstars. Belgium’s golden generation took them so far as did England’s young team but neither could take that step of reaching the final of the World Cup and Croatia and France earned their place in the biggest match in the sport.
On the face of it France have the better all-round team and Croatia have gone to extra-time in their three knockout matches. France are strong in defence, have a solid midfield and have some magic at the top end of the field. Croatia are playing for the flag and it would be huge for this relatively new nation if they won the World Cup. They had the strength to peg back England and win the game in extra-time. However, France are more capable than England of holding firm.
Croatia have arguably the best midfield in the tournament, drawing on player’s from Europe’s top clubs. They have a solid defence and a variety of decent scoring options as England found out. Off field problems have been a distraction in the past but the players have performed when it matters most. France have created a team from the individual talent and that could be the decisive factor. France can be the world champions for the first time overseas in 2018.