What a weird morning Thursday was eh? Waking up to the realisation I’ll probably be dead before England reach another World Cup semi-final. But then we’ll always have Russia 2018. Goals, drama, VAR, drunks captured on camera phones doing somersaults in IKEA and falling off buses and straight through bus shelters.
In the end then football didn’t come home. Croatia were just a bit too savvy and technically gifted for Mr Southgate’s brave young Lions. Yet when the dust settles, fans and pundits alike on these shores will hopefully appreciate the fact that football not actually coming home wasn’t quite as important as the delicious feeling, for several sun-drenched weeks, that it just might.
The World Cup Final then. France v Croatia. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal. Yet just how much will this Croatia side actually have left in the tank after playing their third 120 minutes of football in as many matches the other night? To see how one of the oldest squads in the tournament went to the well in the second half on Wednesday and then came through after extra-time was extraordinary. But surely they’ll be f**king knackered here?
France are a big, strong, physical side who importantly are the equals at least of Croatia in terms of technical ability. As brilliantly as Croatia played in midweek, by the end they collectively looked like they hadn’t been to bed for days. Luka Modric for example could barely summon the strength to remove his alice band when substituted late on.
Croatia deserve real credit for getting to this stage, but my hunch is they could be a busted flush by Sunday. There are a few injury concerns, and this squad simply doesn’t have the depth of their French counterparts.
Speaking of Modric, I was baffled by his claim that the English media gave them the motivation to beat England. It’s a World Cup semi final for f**ks sake. Who cares what Ian Wright says? Sore winners have been a feature of this World Cup. Nobody consoles the vanquished any more. Anyway, I digress.
France were proper dodgy during qualifying (losing to Sweden and drawing with Belarus and Luxembourg) but have been a model of consistency during this tournament. Raphael Varane has been immense at the back, Hugo Lloris virtually faultless between the sticks, and then there’s that attack. Kylian Mbappe has looked frightening at times. His pace, skill and power belie the fact he’s only 19. When I was 19 I was drinking cans of Irish Harp in a vest watching Zinedine Zidane go through the gears at the 1998 World Cup.
Indeed it’s 20 years since France last won a major tournament, but they surely won’t get a better chance now against a Croatia side who are likely out on their feet? France at a shade under evens is sitting up and begging to be smashed.
In terms of a first goalscorer, can you imagine Mbappe in full flight running at a weary Croatian defence? The young PSG starlet has come of age in Russia and what better way for him to underline his status as a genuine world phenom than by scoring first in the biggest game of them all? Mbappe is a 5/1 poke to score first and that looks fair enough. One suspects Dejan Lovren may live to regret the timing of his casual declaration that he’s “one of the best defenders in the world”. Good luck with that one, Dejan.
If you like an outsider Croatia are a 4/1 chance to win in 90 minutes, and as big as 18/1 to get it done in extra-time. As stated though I do fear they could be running on fumes by the time they amble back out into the cauldron of the Luzhniki Stadium, so a better bet is taking the 11/2 on offer about France winning both halves. The French have goal threats all over the park, and remember kids, they’ve yet to lose a game with N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba both in the starting XI.
So for me this is all about the French. Props to Croatia for getting this far, but as my old French teacher used to say “Les Carottes sont cuites!”
Betting: France to beat Croatia at 10/11
Betting: Kylian Mbappe to score first at 5/1
Betting: France to win both halves at 11/2