MX23RW : Friday, July 20 12:08:05
Jul 15, 2018 at 4pm UK at ​Luzhniki Stadium
France
4-2
Croatia
Mandzukic (18' og.), Griezmann (38' pen.), Pogba (59'), Mbappe (65')
Kante (27'), Hernandez (41')
FT(HT: 2-1)
Perisic (28'), Mandzukic (69')
Vrsaljko (92')

Live Coverage: World Cup 2018 final

Live Coverage: World Cup 2018 final
© Reuters
Sports Mole brings you all the latest news ahead of the 2018 World Cup final between France and Croatia in Moscow.

After 63 games over the past month, two teams are left to battle it out for the crown of being the 2018 World Cup winners.

France and Croatia are the last sides standing and will come face-to-face at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow later today.

Thirty-two others have already fallen in what has been a tournament to remember, and it all comes down to this showpiece in the Russian capital to determine who can carry the tag of being the world's best international side.

Ahead of kickoff at 4pm, Sports Mole will bring you all of the build-up from Moscow and delve into both camps, while also looking back on what has been a special World Cup.


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12.00pmHas it really been more than a month since this all began?! What has been a truly wonderful World Cup concludes later today as France and Croatia lock horns in the Russian capital, battling it out for the tag of being the greatest international side on the planet. Thirty-two others have fallen and now all eyes are on the impressive Luzhniki Stadium for what should be - fingers crossed - an entertaining final.

12.04pmThirty-one days have passed since Russia kicked things off with a 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia at this ground, kickstarting what has been one of the more memorable World Cups. We have had goals aplenty, drama galore and, inevitably, the odd controversial moment. VAR has become an everyday word and England even managed to make it to the latter stages of a major competition - heady days, indeed!

12.10pmTOURNAMENT STATS!

GOALS: 163

SHOTS: 1,594

PENS: 28

REDS: 4

YELLOWS: 216

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE: 46,607

QUICKEST GOAL: 57 sec (Mathias Jorgensen, Denmark)

LATEST GOAL: 96m, 49s (Neymar, Brazil)

OWN GOALS: 10


12.14pmThe tournament has averaged more than two-and-a-half goals a game so far and has contained just one goalless draw - the less said about Denmark vs. France the better! Belgium look likely to end as the 2018 edition's top-scoring side, netting 16 goals across their seven matches, putting them four in front of finalists Croatia and the same number ahead of England. France, for what it is worth, have scored 10 times in six matches en route to the final.

12.20pmRACE FOR THE GOLDEN BOOT!

Awards are not handed out for the sides who collectively score the most goals, of course (sorry Belgium!), but the Golden Boot race is one that carries plenty of acclaim. It is looking increasingly likely that Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Harry Kane will bow out as the tournament's leading scorer, having notched six goals in six matches.

Kane may have fired blanks in his last three matches, culminating in yesterday's third-place playoff defeat to Belgium, though unless Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Luka Modric or Ivan Perisic can net a hat-trick today then it will be the English striker who takes the award.


12.25pmIf that is the case, Harry Kane will join Gary Lineker in becoming just the second ever England player to win the Golden Boot at a World Cup finals. It is not a bad list of names, in fact, and six goals suggests that he has done enough to come out on top.

1930: Guillermo Stabile (8 goals)
1934: Oldeich Nejedly (5)
1938: Leonidas (7)
1950: Ademir (8)
1954: Sandor Kocsis (11)
1958: Just Fontaine (13)
1962: Florian Albert, Valentin Ivanov, Garrincha, Vava, Drazan Jerkovic, Leonel Sanchez (4)
1966: Eusebio (9)
1970: Gerd Muller (10)
1974: Grzegorz Lato (7)
1978: Mario Kempes (6)
1982: Paolo Rossi (6)
1986: Gary Lineker (6)
1990: Salvatore Schillaci (6)
1994: Hristo Stoichkov, Oleg Salenko (6)
1998: Davor Suker (6)
2002: Ronaldo (8)
2006: Miroslav Klose (5)
2010: Thomas Muller (5)
2014: James Rodriguez (6)


12.31pmGOLDEN BALL CONTENDERS!

Not to be mistaken with the Golden Boot, the Golden Ball is awarded to the player who has performed best across the duration of the tournament. Lionel Messi was the last player to lift the trophy in Brazil four years ago, while Diego Forlan, Zinedine Zidane, Oliver Khan and Brazil striker Ronaldo have also triumphed over the past two decades.

Two men are way out in front in terms of the 2018 award - France striker Kylian Mbappe and Croatia playmaker Luka Modric. Both men have impressed over the past month, although Modric has arguably been the more consistent with his displays. Mbappe, on the other hand, has truly come to life in the knockouts, particularly with his display in the 4-3 win over Argentina a couple of weeks back.

Kylian Mbappe scores the opener during the World Cup group game between France and Peru on June 21, 2018© Reuters


12.34pmThe Golden Ball award is a lot more open than the Golden Boot, then, and it will almost certainly come down to which of Mbappe or Modric performs better today. A crowd of 81,000 is expected at the revamped Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, which also hosted the 1980 Olympics, for the 21st World Cup final. Eleven different cities have held matches over the past month, though this has got to be the most impressive of the venues.

12.39pmThis is a final that not many would have predicted, in truth, mainly because Croatia were never meant to get much further than the first knockout round. In fact, heading into the tournament with a complicated perjury charge hanging over star man Luka Modric, some felt that escaping from a group that contained dark horses Nigeria and Iceland, as well as past champs Argentina would be a tough task in itself.

Croatia were one of three sides to pick up maximum points in the group phase, however, and they then went on to beat Denmark and Russia on penalties, before seeing off England in extra time for a place in their first ever final. You have to wonder, though, just how much the additional 90 minutes of playing time has affected them.


12.42pmWe will get a feel for the mood in Moscow as we edge closer to kickoff - and I can tell you that the bars around the ground are already pretty dry judging by some of the clips circulating! - but for now let us focus on what the players have had to say. There is also a pretty interesting stat that has been posted via FIFA's official account...






12.47pmFrance are bidding to win the World Cup for a second time, exactly two decades after famously going all the way on home soil. Croatia, a nation of just 4.5m people, have never made it this far before, so history could well be made in Moscow today. Should Les Blues come out on top, they will join Uruguay and Argentina on two titles, leaving them behind only Germany (4), Italy (4) and Brazil (5) in the list of the tournament's most successful ever sides.

Alternatively, they could become the eighth team to lose in more than one final, having suffered defeat to Italy 12 years ago. Germany are out in front in that regard, losing the showpiece match four times, while Argentina (3), Netherlands (3), Brazil (2), Italy (2), Czechoslovakia (2) and Hungary (2) complete the list.


12.51pmWe have already taken a look at Croatia's route to the final - to say it has been gruelling would be an understatement - but what about France? The 1998 world champions did not really get out of second gear in a pretty easy-looking group, requiring a late goal to overcome Australia 2-1 in their opener and then netting just the once in a 1-0 win against Peru. That was followed up by the tournament's only goalless draw to date against Denmark, which was enough to seal top spot.

France turned on the attacking style in the first knockout round, though, as they saw off Argentina 4-3 in arguably the game of the tournament so far. Uruguay were meant to be a far more resilient opponent in the last eight, but Les Blues produced a professional display to prevail 2-0, before then knocking out Belgium with a 1-0 victory earlier this week.

France defender Samuel Umtiti celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal of his side's World Cup semi-final with Belgium on July 10, 2018© Reuters


12.56pmFrance have played 65 previous World Cup matches and won 33 of those for a win rate of 51%, compared to 50% for Croatia across their 22 matches. Les Blues quite clearly boast the more pedigree, having won the cup once before and reached the final on one other occasion. A penalty shootout is a real possibility today if the Vatreni's previous games at this summer's tournament are anything to go by, and they have won both of their previous shootouts, whereas France have won two and lost two.

Les Blues' most experienced players on the world stage, Fabian Barthez and Thierry Henry, are long retired, yet in Luka Modric their opponents have a player with 11 finals games under his belt - only Davor Suker can match that. Some have even suggested that should Modric inspire his side to victory today, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi's decade-long stronghold on the Ballon d'Or will come to an end.


1.00pmTHREE HOURS UNTIL KICKOFF!

Kickoff at the Luzhniki Stadium in the 21st World Cup final is now just three hours away. The excitement levels are building in Moscow as both sets of supporters, as well as thousands of Russians and other neutrals, join in with the party atmosphere.





1.05pmAs we continue to count down the minutes until kickoff, let us check out some thoughts from the opposing camps.

Didier Deschamps: "It's true Croatia has players with strong club experiences and who have reached a level of maturity on the pitch together, but we have met teams with more experience than us all through the tournament."

Hugo Lloris: "They have shown incredible mental and physical strength to get to the final, having come through three extra times. Of course, they have had great individual talent for many years but they now have this collective strength and we are going to have to be at a very high level to be able to win."

Zlatko Dalic: "This is the World Cup final. Simply the players know what that is. One thing that brings me happiness is that all my players tell whether they are not 100% fit. We have a such a good relationship that they will concede and say that I am not fit, I'm going to miss the final. They know what is at stake in the final."

Luka Modric: "I've repeated several times that I'm focused on the team's success. When you're mentioned in that context, it's very nice, it's pleasing, but I don't worry myself about that. I want my team to win and hopefully we win. Other things are outside my control. What I want is success for the national team. Individual awards are not a priority for me."


1.11pmSPORTS MOLE'S TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT!

As a bit of fun, we have compiled our own Team of the Tournament, although there is still some room for movement depending on the outcome of today's game. Turn it on in the final and you'll instantly slot into the side.

GK: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium)
LB: Diego Laxalt (Uruguay)
CB: Domagoj Vida (Croatia)
CB: Yerry Mina (Colombia)
RB: Benjamin Pavard (France)
RW: Denis Cheryshev (Russia)
CM: N'Golo Kante (France)
CM: Luka Modric (Croatia)
LW: Eden Hazard (Belgium)
ST: Kylian Mbappe (France)
ST: Harry Kane (England)


1.15pmThat team does not contain Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, who was arguably the standout player in the group stage with four goals to his name, while Romelu Lukaku is also unfortunate to miss out because he has had a good tournament - even if the goals did dry up a little. Lionel Messi is another notable absentee, although even he will admit that this was not the World Cup that he was hoping for, bar a moment of magic to salvage his side's campaign in the final round of group games.

Croatia have two players, Luka Modric and defender Domagoj Vida in our Team of the Tournament, while Benjamin Pavard, N'Golo Kante and Kylian Mbappe make the cut from the French side. That could all change this afternoon, though, as Hugo Lloris may keep a clean sheet to overtake Thibaut Courtois, for example, and Antoine Griezmann could net a brace to edge out one of Kylian Mbappe or Harry Kane.


1.21pmGOALS OF THE TOURNAMENT!

I'm at risk of welling up here as we look back at some of the 63 previous games to have taken place in Russia this summer. Does it all really have to end? Anyway, here is a selection of our top five goals*...

DENIS CHERYSHEV (RUSSIA VS. CROATIA, QUARTER-FINAL


BENJAMIN PAVARD (FRANCE VS. ARGENTINA, LAST 16)


DRIES MERTENS (BELGIUM VS. PANAMA, GROUP STAGE)


CRISTIANO RONALDO (PORTUGAL VS. SPAIN, GROUP STAGE)


NACER CHADLI (BELGIUM VS. JAPAN, LAST 16)


*These have been compiled from memory so please direct any angry messages to the site's Editor and not me personally.


1.25pmNot long to go now until I hand you over to Barney Corkhill, but before doing so let me whet your appetite a little more with some more pre-match facts and stats.

• France are unbeaten in their five previous games with Croatia, winning three times. They have met twice before at major tournaments

• The French are the sixth nation to reach three or more World Cup finals, following in the footsteps of Germany (eight), Brazil and Italy (both six), Argentina (five) and the Netherlands (three)

• This will be France's sixth final at a major tournament (including three at the European Championship). They have won three of the previous five

• Croatia are the first team to have reached the World Cup final despite trailing in all three of their knockout games

• Croatia have scored 12 goals and have had eight different goalscorers (excluding own goals) - only Belgium boast higher figures (14 goals and nine goalscorers, prior to the third-place play-off)


1.31pmRight, it is time to check back in with events taking place across the continent. Just over 81,000 people are lucky enough to have landed themselves a ticket for today's match, while more than a billion are expected to tune in across the world, whether at home, in the pub or in a fanzone.

ZAGREB


PARIS


MOSCOW



1.37pmEveryone loves a good stat, so here is another list of figures to sum up just how big this afternoon's match is.

1.1bn
Global TV audience for the final four years ago between Germany and Argentina

3.4bn
The number of people around the world who have watched some of the World Cup this year – nearly half the total world population of 7.6bn

29million
The prize in pounds the winners receive from FIFA

747
Cost in pounds of the most expensive ticket available to the public for Sunday

4.6bn
How much money in pounds FIFA are expected to generate in revenue from this World Cup

8.9bn
The bill in pounds of hosting the World Cup, two-thirds of which has been met by the Russian Government


1.41pmWe have already got the thoughts of a couple of members from both the France and Croatia camp; now let us look back at some of the more memorable quotes from those taking part.

Cristiano Ronaldo: "I don't have to show anything to anyone. There is nothing to prove. I think I have improved from last year. I am always trying to improve my game and improve myself."

Harry Kane: "I think self-belief is a massive thing in football. If you don't believe in yourself, not many others will. Work hard and believe in yourself, and I think you'll go as far as your body will take you."

Neymar: "I have never been concerned about winning the Ballon d'Or or being the best player in the world. The best player is already here and that's Messi. And now I can see him from close up."

Diego Costa: "Goals are what count for me. It's not about a battle with defenders. Fighting hard, giving everything and working hard on the field you have to combine with the goals you score. It doesn't matter if defenders want to battle with me or not; I will just be trying to do my job as well as I possibly can."


1.47pm






1.55pmA quick word on the referee; Nestor Pitana will be taking charge of his fifth match at this summer's World Cup, having also been in the middle for two group games - including Russia's opening-match win against Saudi Arabia - and two knockout matches. The Argentine official, who is a former actor and appeared in the 1987 film The Fury, took charge of France's 2-0 win against Uruguay and Croatia's extra-time win against Denmark, so he is well known to both sides.

2.00pmWe have officially reached the two-hour countdown until the 2018 World Cup final gets under way. And with that, it is time to hand you over to my esteemed colleague Barney Corkhill, who will take a closer look at the two teams and bring you the team news the moment it arrives.

Live coverage of events from France vs. Croatia can be followed here, and be sure to check out this in-depth preview ahead of kickoff at 4pm. All that is left for me to say is enjoy, and thank you for joining me for the past two hours!


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Croatia midfielder Luka Modric in action during his side's international friendly with Brazil at Wembley on June 3, 2018
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