Russia 2018 Final, Beware of The Underdogs


The Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup will be remembered for its numerous upsets and intriguing suspense. Ranging from the roller-coaster ride of the host nation; the fall of many great footballing nations to smaller opponents and most interestingly the use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

The football showpiece has proved to be in a class of its own. The final which is scheduled to hold at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday, will feature two teams that faced each other in the semifinals of the 1998 FIFA World Cup exactly 20 years ago.

Croatia had progressed all the way to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup in just their first outing but narrowly lost to France 2-1. The Croatians sacrificed a 1-0 lead created by Davor Suker who went on to finish as the tournament top scorer in that year. Lilian Thuran scored twice to send France to the finals.

As underdogs compared to Brazil, France capped an extraordinary 3-0 world cup victory with Zinedine Zidane scoring twice and Petit finishing up the tie with a beautiful goal.

Since then, Les Blues have won the European Championship in 2000, lost the world Cup and European championship finals in 2006 and 2016 respectively.

The Croatians won all their group matches and have played 120mins in the rest matches winning with penalty shootouts in the knockout stage and the quarter final stages against Denmark and Russia respectively. They have scored a total of 12 goals in six matches and conceded only 5.

The fairly tidy defense led by Vida and Lovren will have to be at their best to keep out the threats posed by Mbappe and Griezman whose partnership has yielded 6 goals for the French team.

In the middle, with top players like Rakitic, Kovacic and Modric in the middle of the pack, Croatia boasts of creativity and energy.

In the frontline, the powerful and prolific partnership of Perisic and Mandzukic who both play in the Italian league could pose serious problems for Verane and Umtiti who play in a less aggressive Spanish league.

Although, many football analysts fear that the Croats having played an extra 90mins may have ran out of gas but they sure look like they will take a stopping. On the other hand, Les Blues played out a goalless draw in their final group fixture against Denmark. They have found the back of the Net 9 times and conceded 4 goals in two out of six matches, after defeating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium 4-3, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively.

In defence, the pair of Umtiti and Verane have done a great job and even had the liberty to push forward and grab 1 goal apiece. In the middle of the pack, Pogba, Kante and Griezman will likely sit behind Mbappe and Giroud who is yet to find the back of the net in this tournament.

The French Coach Didier Deschamps is looking to become only the third coach in history to lift the FIFA World Cup both as a player and a coach, after he captained the 1998 squad that defeated Croatia to progress to the final where they dubbed Brazil 3-0.

The France team lost the 2016 European Championship final 0-1 on home ground to underdogs Portugal.

With the wounds of that defeat still fresh in their mind, the French team will be weary of  'the underdogs'.

By Onwordi Ngozi Fortune.

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