Sunday July 15 2018

It is France’s trophy to lose in World Cup final

Raphael Varane celebrates after scoring the

Raphael Varane celebrates after scoring the opener during quarter-final against Uruguay. AFP PHOTO 

By Mark Namanya

Sixty four years ago is the last time we witnessed an upset of seismic proportions in a Fifa World Cup final.
Then, heavy underdogs West Germany upset the golden team of Hungary 3-2 at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, in what ranks as one of the greatest upsets of all time.

That Hungarian team of the Mighty Magyars was led by Sandor Koscic, Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuki and had crushed West Germany 8-3 in the groups.
Four years earlier in 1950, Uruguay had also stunned the Maracana by stunning Brazil 2-1 in the final in what was the most nightmarish result in Selecao history until the 2014 edition when Germany put seven past the record world champions.

Hosts and favourites Brazil led through a Friaca strike but underdogs Uruguay clawed their way back to win through goals by Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia. The latter, the last surviving member of that Uruguayan team, passed on three years ago.
Tonight at the Luhzniki Stadium, curtains will fall on the 2018 edition with one of France and Croatia win the trophy.
Croatia are underdogs for they are competing at the final for the first time ever.

France, meanwhile, have played at a World Cup final and won.
The was in 1998, the edition they hosted, when the Les Blues crushed Brazil 3-0 at Stade De France.
To get there, France overcame Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals with defender Lilian Thuram scoring both goals in a come-from-behind victory.
At this World Cup, France have relied on goals by defenders to reach the final.
Benjamin Pavard scored against Argentina in the second round, Raphael Varane goal on the scoresheet in the quarters in the game with Uruguay and Samuel Umtiti was hero in the semi-finals with a beautiful header that ended Belgium’s hopes.

Croatia will know that France have threats everywhere.
But the bigger secret about Didier Deschamp’s team is that they are not having to rely on anyone to carry them.
France are a solid team blessed with energy in Ngolo Kante, elegant arrogance in Paul Pogba, frightening pace in Kylian Mbappe and intelligent forward movement in Antonio Griezmann.
France are outrights favourites. And even the Croats would be the first to admit.
However, Zlatko Dalic’s team are revelling in their role as rank outsiders.

They were lucky to win post-match penalty shoot-outs against Denmark and Russia, two teams against whom they are decidedly superior technically.
But Modric and company showed that they can adjust against the big boys in dominant performances against Argentina in the groups and England in the semis.
Croatia have showcased incredible bundles of energy in playing a total of 360 minutes through the knock-out stages and will be mentally prepared for another round of extra time should the game stretch beyond regulation time.

What Croatia have that the French don’t is a centre forward scoring goals. Mario Mandzukic has two key knock-out goals, which is a better return than his opposite number Olivier Giroud who is in the final without a goal to his name.
Giroud, if France win the tournament, will have emulated infamous 1998 World Cup winner Stephane Guivarc’h; a striker who couldn’t score goals.
Croatia, who only became a Fifa and Uefa member in 1992, have upset the odds. But it is by all accounts France’s trophy to lose.
A Croatia win would rank somewhere alongside West Germany’s 1954 victory and Uruguay’s upset of Brazil at the Maracana in 1950.
In fact Croatia beating France in a Fifa World Cup final would be the football story of our time.

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