France and Croatia do battle in Moscow on Sunday afternoon in pursuit of the most prestigious prize in football.
Through force of will and determination, Zlatko Dalic and Didier Deschamps have led their respective sides to the World Cup final – nobody can say that they don’t deserve to be there, nor can it be denied that either team would make worthy world champions.
But how do the two sides stack up when put together side-by-side, based on the players’ form throughout the tournament?
Danijel Subasic (Croatia). The Monaco goalkeeper has been in fantastic form for most of the tournament, even when playing through injury at the end of the quarter-final clash with Russia (and subsequent penalty shootout). The 33-year-old made a phenomenal stop to deny Harry Kane in the semi at a time when England were on top – for that alone, he deserves to be here.
Sime Vrsaljko (Croatia). The right-back was key to the victories in the knockout stages, making the sighs of relief at his name on the teamsheet against England more understandable. Offers width going forward and is strong and composed at the back.
Raphael Varane (France). Defence is vitally important in Deschamps’ conservative approach, so Varane and Samuel Umtiti had to be on top form throughout. The Real Madrid man has been top-class in Russa.
Dejan Lovren (Croatia). His own opinion of himself seems to have skyrocketed recently, but there’s no denying that Lovren has been one of the best defenders at this tournament. A number of strong, committed displays from the Liverpool centre-back have been a huge help to the national side.
Benjamin Pavard (France). One of the surprise packages at the World Cup, Pavard was thrown in at the deep end and has responded with a number of eye-catching performances down the right flank for France. Just as useful in attack as he is in defence, as evidenced by that screamer against Argentina.
N’Golo Kante (France). The tenacious workhorse of this French team. Few have the same level of energy and tremendous work rate as Kante when he is in flow, tackling and intercepting at will in midfield to ensure that even the most promising opposition attacks can turn to dust in an instant.
Ivan Rakitic (Croatia). Luka Modric will always generate more headlines, but Rakitic has also been excellent in the Croatian midfield. Often asked to pull the strings from a deeper role in Modric ventures forward, the Barcelona man ‘s dribbling and passing from range have proven to be powerful tools for Dalic to use/
Paul Pogba (France). Pogba’s performances in this World Cup, while brilliant, have been slightly surprising by their nature. The Man United midfielder has been selfless throughout the campaign, tracking back and operating for the benefit of the team, even if it curbs his more attacking and adventurous instincts.
Luka Modric (Croatia). What more can be said about Modric that hasn’t already? The Real Madrid playmaker gave a timely reminder of his ability in the second half against England, taking charge of the midfield and reducing Gareth Southgate’s side to long balls in order to try and bypass him. One more virtuoso performance here and he could be lifting the trophy.
Kylian Mbappe (France). One of the biggest success stories of the World Cup has been Mbappe’s rise to the occasion, such is the impression that the young PSG forward has made. Mbappe tore Argentina to shreds almost single-handedly, and the 19-year-old has been showing maturity way beyond his years throughout.
Mario Mandzukic (Croatia). When it comes to these two sides, it seems that a relative lack of goals in the strikers is not a problem when they can contribute in other ways. What Mandzukic has lacked in goalscoring (just two for the Juventus frontman in Russia), he has made up for in impressive movement both with and without the ball, while his selflessness and work rate have been exemplary.