Back in 1998, the Croatian national soccer team faced a fearsome France squad in the FIFA World Cup semifinals.
The Croatians were playing in their very first World Cup, having only recently gained independence from the former Yugoslavia seven years earlier.
As for the French – one of the four European teams to compete in the inaugural World Cup in 1930 – playing on home soil certainly provided ample motivation. As did two close calls a decade before, with France finishing in 4th and 3rd place in the 1982 and 1986 tournaments, respectively.
France prevailed over Croatia in a thrilling 2-1 affair, propelling Les Bleus to their first ever World Cup Final – which they promptly won by defeating Brazil in a 3-0 blowout.
Since that win, France has qualified for every World Cup thereafter, even notching a runner-up finish in 2006. As for Croatia, they played their way into three of the four subsequent tournaments, but they’ve yet to make it out of the Group Stage for a second time – until this year that is.
After entering the 2018 World Cup as (+2800) underdogs to win it all – per the opening odds posted by online sportsbook Bovada – Croatia has rolled all the way to the final. And fittingly, when they take the pitch this Sunday with the Cup on the line, they’ll face off against France.
Croatia defeated England in a 2-1 instant classic to escape the semifinals, scoring in extra time to shock a confident Three Lions team intent on bringing the Cup “home.” France, meanwhile, played its usual defensive game to perfection in eliminating Belgium by a 1-0 margin.
World Cup Final – Sunday, July 15 – France vs. Croatia
If the Croatian side are the consummate underdogs, the French occupy the other end of the betting spectrum as firm favorites.
Coming into World Cup play, France was priced at (+700) to win the tournament, trailing only Brazil (+400) and Spain (+450) out of the 32-team field.
Croatia was tabbed at ninth in that regard with the aforementioned (+2800) line, so these two teams are certainly coming from different pre-Cup mindsets.
Even so, the Croatians have played a splendid tournament throughout, while using multiple methods to outlast their opponents. They put up impressive 2-0 and 3-0 clean sheets against Nigeria and Argentina, respectively, to open World Cup play. But after reaching the Knockout Stage, it took penalty shots to put them through against Denmark and Russia.
Led by midfielder Luka Modric, Croatia will look to break through France’s defensive wall, but that might be easier said than done.
In six Cup matches thus far, French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has put up an astounding four clean sheets, denying the likes of powerhouses Belgium and Uruguay along the way. And outside of a three-goal outburst by Argentina in a 4-3 victory, Lloris and his defense have surrendered just a single goal all tournament.
Throw in striking sensation Kylian Mbappe and his upfield partner Antoine Griezmann, combined with defensive-minded midfielders N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, and France will surely have the most talented roster on the pitch.
But that’s been the case through many of Croatia’s surprising victories, so they have a legitimate shot to topple the favored France (+115) as (+370) underdogs. And if you’re keen on another extra time thriller, the 90-minute regulation draw offers (+230) odds.