So this is it, the World Cup final, and while it’s one I’ll watch with regret as an England fan, the fact that football isn’t coming home is easier to swallow after having stopped by for a few weeks to remind us why we love it, much like a child who has gone off on a seemingly never-ending trip to ‘find himself’ with his more glamorous mates.
It will go and stay with an Antoine or an Ivan for the next four years after France and Croatia booked their places in the final on merit following semifinal showings constructed from professionalism and desire.
It’s difficult not to fall into the same trap of writing off Croatia from a physical standpoint having done exactly that ahead of the England game, so France will know that Zlatko Dalic’s side will not be outrun or out fought. They will, however, take heart from the fact that the World Cup final debutantes took time to find their feet on Wednesday, so while it’s uncommon in games of such unrivaled magnitude, coming out of the blocks quickly may be the modus operandi for Les Bleus.
When it comes to fast starts, or fast anythings for that matter, it helps to have a player such as Kylian Mbappe to call upon, and the teenager — one needs to keep reminding oneself that he is just 19 — may be playing for more than just the World Cup trophy itself. The strong favorite to win the Golden Ball this summer — the Player of the Tournament award — Mbappe will hope to put that beyond doubt by signing off in style.
The fact that he’s 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, too, and the Croatia defense did look a little shaken by Raheem Sterling’s speed in the first half in midweek. Despite that, the youngster is still out at +225 to score at any time and add the goal that his semifinal display against Belgium deserved.
As far as Croatia are concerned, Mario Mandzukic is their most likely scorer in the odds for a reason — considering his big game experience. A three-time Champions League finalist, he scored one of the greatest goals in the showpiece’s history for Juventus. And while he’s more likely to find the net with the sort of strike that broke English hearts in the week, the striker is a man for the big occasion.
An angular, elbowy nightmare of an opponent, he’ll look to rough up a young France defense and feed off of their frustration of facing a master of the dark arts of soccer. Out at +450 to score any time, Mandzukic — like Croatia — may once again be underestimated.
Picks: Mbappe to score anytime +225, Mandzukic to score anytime +450
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