And then there were two. France and Croatia will battle it out for all of the marbles in the World Cup final on Sunday. In our pre-tournament article, quite a few members of The Action Network staff nailed either France or Croatia — Sean Newsham even had France as his pick and Croatia as his sleeper; major props.
While most of our staff provided their World Cup winners for that piece, we decided to poll our die-hard soccer followers to get their best bets for the championship match. Some chose a side or total, while others went with a prop. Let’s get into it.
BlackJack Fletcher: France -0.5 (-112)
The French have an incredibly stout defensive game, which has been wearing down opponents in this World Cup. Aside from having a future on them, I also think they’re simply the more talented and seasoned team. I think the French win in relatively comfortable fashion as the clock strikes midnight on Croatia’s Cinderella story.
Evan Abrams: France -1.5 (+300)
France hasn’t allowed a goal since the 93rd minute of stoppage time against Argentina. And that goal came when Lionel Messi and Co. trailed by two goals with all men forward. Croatia is the 35-1 darling that played 90 more minutes in the knockout stage than France. I think the dream ends on Sunday. I also fancy France over 1.5 goals (+150).
Michael Leboff: Croatia (+398)
The more I think about it, the more I like the value with Croatia. There’s no doubt France is the more likely winner, but there’s no way the number should be this high — even if Croatia are tired. France’s weakness is on their flanks, and Croatia’s winger Ivan Perisic looked dangerous as hell against England. On the other side, Ante Rebic was menacing against Russia. If they spread things out and keep the midfield from getting muddied, Croatia can actually do the damn thing. (Although I may be biased, considering my 30-1 future on the Croatians).
Michael Goodman: Under 2 (-119)
France are a defensive behemoth. They don’t want to outscore you, even though they might have the best collection of attacking talent in the world. They’ve scored more than two goals only once this entire tournament (when they had to beat a kamikaze Argentina side 4-3). They want to get a goal and grind you down.
Croatia might stage an upset, but they’ll have to grind out a low-scoring affair to do so. They haven’t scored more than a goal in 90 minutes of regulation since the group stage. Hard to see many goals in this one.
Bryan Mears: Under 2 (-119)
France have had major success in this World Cup because of their defense: Per FiveThirtyEight, they’re third among teams with just 0.61 expected goals allowed. That’s partly because midfielder Paul Pogba has been playing back defensively more than attacking. I think they’ll continue to prioritize defense, which means outside of a brilliant moment from star Kylian Mbappe, we may not see many goals in regulation. I also don’t mind the +230 odds on a draw.
Sean Newsham: Croatia to have the most bookings (-140) (Bovada)
Croatia is clearly exhausted after playing 120 minutes in every game of the knockout stage. You tend to see exhausted teams take more fouls in order to slow the game down. And when you take more fouls (especially on the wing and in the middle of the field), more bookings will follow suit as the match progresses.
Add in Mbappe running against the tired Croatian defense that already lacked some paces and you have an amazing recipe for yellow cards from the Croatian players. Look for Croatia to easily surpass France in yellow cards — especially if we see extra time once again.
Jason Sobel: Antoine Griezmann to score a goal (+185)
This has been a World Cup filled with set-piece goals. Many have come through the air off corner kicks, but there have still been plenty via penalty kicks and free kicks. Griezmann is France’s man on the ball in these situations and he should have a number of opportunities, especially considering Croatia’s defense plays with a physicality bordering on dirtiness. (I’m looking at you, Domagoj Vida.)
Expect the striker to finish one of these chances — and even if he doesn’t, getting one during the run of play is obviously a real possibility, as well.
Martin Laurence: HT/FT Draw/France (+365)
The fact that Mbappe is up against Croatia’s weakest link in Ivan Strinic — or potentially Josip Pivaric at left back — should improve the PSG forward’s chances of making a telling contribution in this one. Plus, the Croatia defense did look a little shaken by Raheem Sterling’s speed in the first half in midweek. I think France eventually finds the winner through Mbappe.