Sports Football 15 Jul 2018 A fairy tale that ha ...

A fairy tale that has wowed the world

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | T N RAGHU
Published Jul 15, 2018, 12:00 am IST
Updated Jul 15, 2018, 12:22 am IST
The underdog  Croatia has much chance as the favourite France to take home coveted Jules Rimet  from the final in Moscow this evening at the Luzhniki Stadium.
 The underdog Croatia has much chance as the favourite France to take home coveted Jules Rimet from the final in Moscow this evening at the Luzhniki Stadium.

If Mumbai were a country, it would be four times as populous as Croatia, which has only 4.2 million inhabitants. The world cannot justifiably stop wondering at the achievement of Croatia in reaching the Fifa World Cup final where they meet the mighty France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday evening. The kick-off at 8.30 pm is tailor-made for India, so plonk yourself in front of TV to take in the riveting drama.

The business end of the World Cup is all about the big boys of the game but the first edition of the enthralling event in Eastern Europe has propelled a tiny nation, which was a born after a bitter and bloody ethnic war, from the region to the decider.

Heart says Croatia and mind says France. Both would want the final to be entertaining. When the prize is so great, teams tend to get cagey. Although the finals in 2010 and 2014 resulted in a 1-0 win in extra-time, they were far from boring. Maybe the wonderful tournament in Russia deserves a blockbuster with more goals.

If the match goes to a shootout, which is highly likely given the conservative approach of France, the Croatians will have the upper hand, having taken part in two already. French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is not great at stopping penalties either, although he is one of the best in open play.

The chances of the occasion getting to Croatia are also bright because they celebrated their semi-final victory over England as if they had won the next match as well. And, they would be carrying heavy legs because each of their last three matches went to extra time.

One department where Croatia are ahead of France is creative midfield. Luka Modric, the front runner for the Golden Boot awarded to the player of the tournament, is capable of controlling the tempo of the match like none of his French opponents can.

But the savvy French will unleash N’Golo Kante on Modric to shackle the Croatian.

Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe is France’s answer to the brilliance of Modric. After destroying Argentina all alone in the round of 16, the PSG forward did little of note in the quarter-final against Uruguay. But he was back to his best in the next match, although a goal eluded him. He provided three fantastic assists that would have made Modric proud.

If Mbappe takes Sunday’s match by storm, he would step into the shoes of the incomparable Pele who made the final against Sweden in 1958 his own as a 17-year-old. Sport is all about youth power and an Mbappe show would be the perfect climax to a gripping tournament.

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