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The World Cup 2018 final is set: France will play Croatia on Sunday. The winner achieves global glory and status, with their names etched into the history books as victors on the world’s biggest stage.
The semi-finals were closely fought affairs, with France edging past Belgium thanks to a set-piece goal and Croatia triumphing over England in extra time.
As always, we’ve evaluated each team still in and assessed their likelihood of winning the tournament, ranking them on that basis. Strength of performance through this stage is a natural indicator of that, but at this point, it’s simply a head-to-head decision: Who are you backing to lift the trophy, France or Croatia? (Belgium and England play in the third-place match on Saturday.)
The 28 eliminated sides are ranked in order of how well they played and how heavily they impressed. You can view the post-quarter-finals rankings here for more flavour on how they fared.
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England’s bright start against Croatia had people asking “how many?” Kieran Trippier had put them ahead, and chances kept cropping up. Only some true profligacy from Harry Kane and Co. kept them from adding to the lead.
But in the second half, things collapsed. Kyle Walker’s yellow card seemed to change things for the Three Lions; they lost their composure, their organisation and their temper. Croatia equalised, forcing extra time. They poached another there and held on for the victory.
In truth, England offered too little in terms of open-play goal threat (again) and began making defensive mistakes when tired (again). Still, to get to this stage is a magnificent achievement, and what Gareth Southgate’s managed in terms of reuniting a team with its fans and nation is remarkable.
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The incredibly fine margins at play in top-level football were extremely apparent in Belgium’s semi-final loss to France. They played well, matched Les Bleus and even bettered them for periods, but they lost by the odd goal.
The source of that goal? A set piece.
They’ve been such an important feature of this tournament, accounting for close to half the goals. Given Belgium’s height and expertise in the air, it was a mild surprise it wasn’t them who benefitted from a whipped delivery and a deft header.
In the end, the Red Devils sort of…ran out of ideas. How does an opponent break this France side down? It remains a mystery, and it’s no longer Belgium’s puzzle to solve.
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When people talk golden generations, the conversation often centres on Belgium. But Croatia are currently on the last legs of their own golden generation, with Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic, Domagoj Vida and Ivan Perisic all 29 years of age or older.
The pressure has been placed on them to finally deliver on their talent this year, and they’ve responded with six straight wins. They’re in the 2018 World Cup final—they’ll be underdogs, but they’re in it. Anything can happen in a single game of football.
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It’s difficult to consider France anything other than clear favourites to lift the World Cup on Sunday.
Their performances have grown with every passing game, and what they produced against Belgium in the semi-final was incredible. The two centre-backs were impregnable, the midfield was rock-solid, and the attack was hardworking and scything at the same time.
All eyes were on Kylian Mbappe’s chops and flicks on Tuesday, but N’Golo Kante’s showing was once again close to flawless. Add that to Raphael Varane‘s monster defensive showing, Antoine Griezmann’s knack for making the difference and Paul Pogba’s lethal passing…France have it all.