After over a month of exciting and enthralling football action, World Cup 2018 will come to a close when France and Croatia take on each other in the final hurdle. Not many heading into the tournament would have predicted these two fighting it out on the last day.
France are one of the strongest teams in the world, and given the fact their current squad is called as their 'golden generation', it isn't much of a surprise to see them one step closer to the crown.
Croatia, on the other hand, are a very good side. But few would have predicted them to reach the semi-finals, let alone the final. There is little doubt about the quality they possess, especially in the midfield, where they have the 'Golden Ball' probable Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
So, ahead of the July 15 encounter, let's see how the two 'golden generations' stack up.
They have reached the final only for the third time in their history, and no one can say they haven't deserved it. The 1998 champions have been solid at the back, and have conceded a mere four goals in the tournament (three of them coming in the same game, against Argentina).
Hugo Lloris has been at his usual best in front of goal, and has produced some really good saves along the way. Though, he hasn't been tested much, and that's due to the back four in front of him.
In Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, France have unearther a solid centre back partnership. Both the players are strong in the air, good with the ball, but more importantly, have pace. Take away the Argentina match, and the ever-present duo have let in a mere one goal in the tournament so far, which is incredible in it's own rights. And the two have also shown their attacking threat, chipping in with a goal each.
Not many were sure about France's full backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. But the duo have proved their critics wrong. While Pavard has been a rock defensively, Hernandez has been a willing runner going forward. Though, it comes as a surprise that out of the two, it is Pavard who has scored a goal. His screamer against Argentina was one of the moments of the tournament, and that backed Didier Deschamps' decision to play him.
Take away Croatia's midfield, and France would stake claim to have the best duo in this position. In Ngolo Kante, they have a player who will run all day long, and even after the final whistle. His tenacity and composure has brought calmness in the defense, and confidence in the attack. His displays may never create headlines, or be highlighted, but he has undoubtedly been one of the 'player of the tournament.'
If Kante is all about tenacity, then his midfield partner Paul Pogba is the complete opposite. With a giant like figure, Pogba is full of creativity. This may not have been one of his best tournaments till date, but he is capable of producing something extraordinary any moment.
France have tried and tested Blaise Matuidi and Corentin Tolisso as the third midfield option, someone who can play on the left side. Both the players have performed decently, but Matuidi edges his compatriot. The Juventus man has legs in him, which allows him to break forward when France have the ball, and help defensively when they are out of possession.
What can you say about France's attack. There is a tall striker, a creative attacking midfielder, and a pacey youngster. The mixture of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe has done wonders.
While Giroud hasn't got the goals, his off the ball running, link up and hold up play has been important. His hardwork has meant the other two have enjoyed their time in the attacking half.
Griezmann started the tournament slowly. He was scoring goals, but struggling with his performances. But once the knockout round started, he has come to life. Against Argentina, his runs and movement were brilliant. Then in the quarter-finals against Uruguay, he tormented the opposition defense. With three goals and two assists in the tournament, he ranks high in terms of the most influential players.
His partner in crime has been Mbappe. Tasked with leading the attack at a tender age of 19, the Paris Saint-Germain man has grabbed onto the opportunity. Just like Griezmann, he was quiet in the group stage, but roared back to form with a sensational match-winning performance against Argentina. While there have been moments of his immaturity and selfishness, there is no denying he is the biggest threat to Croatia in the final.
You don't always need big names in your back line to be strong. And Croatia have proved exactly that. Their goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is hardly considered world class. But in World Cup 2018, his performances have been extraordinary. Two match winning displays against Denmark and Russia has earned him the 'legend' tag in his country.
The back four of Croatia have been dependable. Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have been neat and clean, and have played to their strengths. If anything, they have performed well above their expectations.
Full backs Šime Vrsaljko and Ivan Strinić, just like the centre backs, have to be lauded for their performances. Both of them have been strong defensively, but have not shied away from going in the attacking half every now and then.
'The Best'. This sums up the midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. In reality, both of them are attacking minded midfielders, and many predicted them to be overrun by opposition attacks. But that hasn't been the case one bit. Rakitic has dropped deep on several occasion to play as the anchor man. But when he goes upfield, Modric is always there to cover his space. The Real Madrid midfielder has arguably been the best player in the tournament, and she his side come victorious on Sunday, he will surely be ranked high amongst the Ballon d'Or candidates.
In few matches, Croatia have gone with a midfield three, playing Marcelo Brozović. His role has basically been to form a trio with Modric and Rakitic. But there is also the option of playing Mateo Kovacic, who is one talented midfield option.
'Tenacity, fight and will'. In Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebić, Croatia have three attacking options who will fight till the end of the day. They have creativity in them, but it is their hardwork which wins praises.
Perisic on his day can be a lethal winger. Playing on the left wing, he can either cut on his right foot to unleash a shot, or go down the wing using his pace. The other two, Mandzukic and Rebic, are sloggers, who will fight for the ball day long. Their ability in the air is also very useful.
There is always another option in Andrej Kramarić, who can give the other attackers run for their money.