Sunday’s final between France and Croatia will bring back memories for FIFA World Cup™ aficionados. 20 years ago, the two sides met in the semi-finals at the 1998 World Cup, when France were hosts.
In many ways there are parallels between that match and Sunday’s final in Moscow. Croatia had almost unthinkably made it to the semi-finals, by far their greatest success as an independent nation. Fancied France were riding a wave of Les Bleus frenzy. Croatia had over-performed, and while making a semi-final was a great success for France, it was not inconceivable that they had made it that far.
Croatia had beaten Germany 3-0 in the quarter-finals. At Russia 2018, they put in one of the best overall team performances of the tournament in their 3-0 win over Argentina in the group stage. Much like this 2018 side, France were solid in the back — they had conceded only one goal before kick-off against Croatia in 1998 — and blessed with talent in midfield and up front with names like Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry littering their starting lists.
There are some direct connections from that day, too. Current France coach Didier Deschamps was captain of the 1998 side and led his team out on the pitch at the Stade de France against Croatia that evening in Saint-Denis. The first half ended goalless between the two sides. At Russia 2018, 22 matches (35 per cent) were also goalless at half-time, with 61 goals being scored in the first half compared to 97 in the second.
The match sprang into life right away in the second half as Croatia’s go-to goalscorer Davor Suker broke through French lines to give Vatreni the lead. Croatia’s advantage lasted only a minute though, as defender Lilian Thuram stole possession on top of Croatia’s penalty area before lashing home his first goal in a France shirt.
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