Croatia stun France in World Cup

Published on Jul 15 2018 // Sports

It is a World Cup final few would have predicted. Croatia face France at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday aiming to win a first major international trophy, while their opponents are in a third final in six World Cups and attempting to add a second title to the one they won in Paris 20 years ago.

The man leading them, Didier Deschamps, is in his third tournament in charge and hoping to become only the third person to lift the trophy as a player and manager.

His counterpart, Zlatko Dalic, has been Croatia manager for just nine months but is 90 minutes from winning football’s biggest prize and completing one of the more unlikely triumphs in World Cup history.

With a population of 4.17 million, you would think Croatia would be the smallest country to have reached a World Cup final. But that accolade goes to Uruguay, who won the inaugural competition in 1930 with an estimated population of about 1.7 million.

At 20th in Fifa’s world rankings, Dalic’s side are the lowest-ranked team to reach a World Cup final, and the 13th different nation to do so.

This is the furthest they have advanced in the competition, bettering their third-place finish 20 years ago, when their brilliant run was ended at the last four stage by… eventual champions France.

While this year’s semi-final victory shattered dreams in England, it sparked wild celebrations in Zagreb and beyond, with thousands of fans pouring onto the streets, singing, letting off flares and waving red, white and blue flags.

Best defender in the tournament?
Croatia centre-back Dejan Lovren splits opinion among supporters, but you can’t argue with his record this season.

If he plays, Lovren will become only the second player to play in the Champions League final for an English club and the World Cup final in the same year, after Thierry Henry in 2006.

On that occasion, Henry ended up on the losing side in both matches, for Arsenal against Barcelona and France against Italy.

At the beginning of this season, Lovren was substituted by Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after just 31 minutes of their 4-1 defeat by Tottenham, having been run ragged by Kane at Wembley.

Lovren got his revenge by keeping the Spurs man quiet in the semi-final and could now end his season on the highest note possible.

“It’s something special for me,” Lovren is reported said. “From my point of view, people were saying I had a difficult season but I don’t agree with that.

“I showed that I took Liverpool to the Champions League final and now with my national team we are in the final.

“I think people should recognise that I’m one of the best defenders in the world and not just talk nonsense.”

But how do the numbers stack up?

Of all the defenders to play in the tournament, 29-year-old Lovren has won 32 aerial duels – only England’s Harry Maguire with 37 has won more – and has a 100% success rate from three tackles attempted.

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