2018 World Cup Final: Rating France vs. Croatia Head-to-Head
Sixty-two matches, 161 goals and enough doses of drama to still the heart have led us here: the 2018 FIFA World Cup final.
We now know the identity of the two sides contesting it, France and Croatia, with the latter defeating England 2-1 in extra time on Wednesday to seal passage to the showpiece event.
The two teams' XIs have been ironed out and perfected over the course of the last six games, giving us a good feel for how both will line up on Sunday (6 p.m. local, 4 p.m. BST, 11 a.m. ET). We've taken those presumed XIs and pitted them head-to-head, position by position, to compare who is stronger where.
We've also given each player a rating for their performances at the World Cup so far, creating a total score at the end of the piece. It doesn't necessarily reveal who has the edge heading into the final but does give you an indicator of where the star players are in each side.
Please note: France and Croatia's formations don't quite align, so we've paired Antoine Griezmann with Ivan Perisic on the left wing and Blaise Matuidi with Ivan Rakitic in central midfield in the comparison. Griezmann and Matuidi's positions are quite interpretive and not necessarily locked to there, but they do frequent the areas often enough to be categorised there.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris vs. Danijel Subasic
Hugo Lloris, France
Lloris' error-strewn 2017-18 Premier League season had some French fans concerned heading into the World Cup, but he's not dropped a single clanger in Russia and has also produced some crucial saves—notably against Paolo Guerrero (Peru), Martin Caceres (Uruguay) and Toby Alderweireld (Belgium).
Danijel Subasic, Croatia
Subasic's workload has varied throughout this tournament, at times doing very little, at times having to step forward and save his team. He's been through and emerged victorious in two penalty shootouts, looking particularly ominous and massive against Denmark in the round of 16.
Right-Back: Benjamin Pavard vs. Sime Vrsaljko
Benjamin Pavard, France
Pavard was originally slated for a reserve role at these finals, but an injury to Djibril Sidibe helped him into the team early.
He started a little slow and was poor in attack versus Australia, but he's a converted centre-back and doesn't find that part of the game intuitive. As the rounds have progressed, he's got better and better, with his golazo against Argentina in the round of 16 his obvious tournament highlight so far.
Sime Vrsaljko, Croatia
Vrsaljko's the footballing equivalent of a wild ride; he storms forward and does everything at 100 mph, crossing early and tackling firmly.
He has been particularly important to Croatia over the last two games, dribbling aggressively down the right and swinging in crosses that have led to goals.
Right Centre-Back: Raphael Varane vs. Dejan Lovren
Raphael Varane, France
Samuel Umtiti may have scored the goal that sent France to the World Cup final, but it's Varane who has emerged as the centre-back you really take note of in this partnership.
His quarter-final performance was very strong, netting a goal himself, but his semi-final showing was essentially perfect: He was everywhere, blocking, clearing, tackling and heading balls every other minute.
Unlike Umtiti, he's yet to make a silly error so far and is the pick of the two over the course of the tournament.
Dejan Lovren, Croatia
After securing a World Cup final berth, Dejan Lovren demanded the world recognise him as one of the best centre-backs in the world when speaking to beIN Sports. He's had a decent tournament, standing up strong in the box at times, but he has also had some hairy moments.
Playing in a high line is difficult, and Lovren's made a fair few misjudgments, while no one will forget the part he played in gifting Enzo Perez a half-open goal in the group stage (somehow, he missed).
Left Centre-Back: Samuel Umtiti vs. Domagoj Vida
Samuel Umtiti, France
If France go on to win the World Cup, Umtiti's semi-final goal against Belgium will be remembered as a key landmark on the way. That might be rather obvious, but the Barcelona man will be quietly relieved he's flipped the script, as until that point, his most notable action at the finals was his strange handball against Australia that led to a penalty.
During the knockout stages, he's really found his groove, defending with authority and forging a partnership with Lucas Hernandez on the left flank.
Domagoj Vida, Croatia
Like Dejan Lovren, Vida's been fairly dominant in his own box—particularly in the air. Back him in against the wall and his combative side will come out.
He's struggled with genuine speed in the channels here and there, and he's been caught between two minds at times when defending high up, though.
Left-Back: Lucas Hernandez vs. Ivan Strinic
Lucas Hernandez, France
Like Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez is a centre-back by trade playing out on the flank. However, given he played there for Atletico Madrid in 2017-18, it's fair to say he's had more of a chance to hone the skills required.
A slow start against Australia aside, he's been rampant on the left flank, tearing up and down, tackling hard and doing the dirty work required. An effective presence.
Ivan Strinic, Croatia
There have been multiple occasions where Strinic's slow, safe approach to the game has seemed at odds with the rest of his team's.
He's the one player in the Croatia XI who hasn't had a definitive high point thus far. He's just sort of plodding along and handing the ball to better players whenever possible.
Defensive Midfield: N'Golo Kante vs. Marcelo Brozovic
N'Golo Kante, France
In a world not quite so heavily weighted toward attackers winning prizes, N'Golo Kante might be a front-runner for the World Cup Golden Ball this year.
He'd be good value for it—he has, arguably, been the best player in Russia through six games—finding a consistent level most can't, destroying the attacks of opponents with a grin.
Marcelo Brozovic, Croatia
Brozovic hasn't always started for Croatia at these finals, but given how important he was against England, you'd imagine he will start the final.
Taking up the enforcer role behind a talented midfield pairing, he's anticipating and disrupting well while covering an unbelievable amount of ground.
Central Midfield: Paul Pogba vs. Luka Modric
Paul Pogba, France
Pogba's had a superb World Cup. Not only is he feeling free and confident while on the ball, he's also shown extreme defensive discipline in alongside N'Golo Kante.
Very often he's responsible for the "moments" that unlock games for France, be it with a chipped pass into space for a runner, a tackle-and-pass high up or a strike that ends up in the net. It's the Pogba we all love to watch.
Luka Modric, Croatia
The beating heart of this Croatia midfield, Modric has managed what so few others can: He's transferred club-level elite form to the national stage.
Not only is the Real Madrid man scoring from distance, splitting defences with great passing and mediating the tempo of games, he's also sapping his legs dry defensively, producing recovery runs and tackles you wouldn't imagine possible.
Central Midfield: Blaise Matuidi vs. Ivan Rakitic
Blaise Matuidi, France
Matuidi plays a strange role, somewhere between left wing and central midfield, tucking inside to defend narrowly, then pushing out to attack the wide spaces on the ball.
There aren't many in football who could perform it as well as him, as he's able to meld both positions into one. He's been a key part of Les Bleus' overwhelming solidity in the centre.
Ivan Rakitic, Croatia
The problem teams have when facing Croatia is that even if you somehow stymie Luka Modric, they still have Rakitic.
His performances have been a little hit-and-miss this summer—the high point coming against Argentina, the low point in the opener versus Nigeria—but you'd still consider him one of the best central midfielders at the tournament.
Right Wing: Kylian Mbappe vs. Ante Rebic
Kylian Mbappe, France
The current favourite for the FIFA Golden Ball to the best player, Mbappe's had a tournament to remember. His searing speed, great decision-making and neat feet have wowed us all, changing his status from "talented youngster" to "one of the best in the world" already.
He troubled Peru, forced Belgium into desperate actions and ripped Argentina apart. Who knows how Ivan Strinic is going to approach keeping this man quiet.
Ante Rebic, Croatia
Rebic has been a revelation for Croatia. Having forced his way into the XI during the pre-tournament process, he's consistently threatened from the right wing, blending aggressiveness and directness with good technical qualities.
His impending battle with Lucas Hernandez is one to watch. They both fight until the bitter end and aren't afraid to leave a foot in.
Left Wing: Antoine Griezmann vs. Ivan Perisic
Antoine Griezmann, France
Griezmann's World Cup has been a little tough to gauge. Perhaps it's the expectation now associated with him or perhaps it's the farce of a sideshow he made "La Decision" into, but it doesn't really feel like he's done enough this tournament.
And yet, he has three goals and two assists. The assists were crucial—two deadly set-piece deliveries unlocking tight defences (Uruguay and Belgium)—and the goals were more than handy. He's also produced some clever flicks in open play, directing the ball toward key outlet Kylian Mbappe.
So at surface level, his performances seem lacking and the big moments in short supply, but dig a little deeper and he's been quietly effective in just the right way.
Ivan Perisic, Croatia
Heading into the semi-finals, it felt like Perisic had yet to reach a boiling point. We know what he's capable of, but he'd only threatened to show it in Russia.
Against England, though, he came alive. He netted the equaliser thanks to a quite brilliant finish and laid on the winner for Mario Mandzukic in extra time. He never stops working, tracking and creating. He's such a danger cutting in off the flank, and he's more or less two-footed; Benjamin Pavard will have his hands full.
Striker: Olivier Giroud vs. Mario Mandzukic
Olivier Giroud, France
Olivier Giroud didn't start France's first game of the World Cup, likely due to the head injury he picked up just before the tournament, and his presence was missed. The attack was supposed to be free-flowing, but instead it just looked disorganised.
Installed as a starter for the second game, Les Bleus got a lot better—fast. He's always been the focal point of Didier Deschamps' lineup and has played a smart role. Giroud has yet to score but has created for others and occupied defenders.
The only real knock on his tournament performance came in the semi-final, where he did miss a lot of chances.
Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
There are strong parallels between Mandzukic and Giroud: They're both selfless, hardworking target men who pride themselves on helping the team and creating chances just as much as scoring.
But Mandzukic has had a bit more luck in front of goal in Russia. He scored against Denmark and England, and he forced Oghenekaro Etebo's own goal in the first group game versus Nigeria.
He runs himself into the ground for Croatia and acts as the perfect foil for his lively wingers.
France total score: 83.5/110
Highest score: N'Golo Kante (9)
Lowest score: Hugo Lloris and Benjamin Pavard (6.5)
There are no weak points in France's expected XI. They struggle to hold genuine width in attack at times because Pavard and Hernandez are displaced centre-backs on the flanks, but the trade-off is that they're rock-solid in defence.
The midfield pair of Kante and Pogba has been incredible, and Griezmann has found ways to impact despite not playing a crucial part in open play. Mbappe is the ultimate danger man on the right flank.
Croatia total score: 78/110
Highest score: Luka Modric (8.5)
Lowest score: Ivan Strinic (6)
Croatia's main strengths are their central-midfield axis, their wing duo and their rampaging right-back Vrsaljko. Having been led to the final by Modric's all-encompassing brilliance, they must lean on him one last time if they're to win.
The battle in the centre will be intriguing: Can Kante stifle Modric's influence? The answer could shape the entire game.
All statistics via WhoScored.com