The Roar
The Roar


Would an amazing World Cup final make Russia the greatest tournament of all?

France fans cheer their team at the Russia 2018 World Cup. (LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)
12th July, 2018

Has this been the best FIFA World Cup ever? If France and Croatia turn on the style in Monday morning’s final, it may well be remembered as exactly that.

Where do you even start? France have never really looked troubled en route to the Luzhniki, while Croatia could hardly have expended more energy if they tried.

And there’s a sense that the French could slip into a higher gear at any second.

Hugo Lloris was superb against the Belgians, as Les Bleus proved once again the advantages of possessing a truly top-class goalkeeper.

France's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris looks on.

France’s goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

And just like Stephane Guivarc’h in 1998, the French may well have a striker in Olivier Giroud who goes the entire tournament without scoring a goal. Their fans won’t care if it helps their team win the World Cup, and Didier Deschamps’ team surely deserve to go into the final as red-hot favourites.

Yet they haven’t faced a team quite like Croatia.

Much is made of the fact that Luka Modrić steers Croatia around the park – rightly so, since he’s clearly one of the world’s best footballers – however it’s Croatia’s strength in depth that has helped propel them to the final.

Their goal scorers against England, Ivan Perišić and Mario Mandžukić, play their club football for Inter and Juventus respectively, while the indefatigable Ivan Rakitić has been a key figure at Barcelona for years.


Even the nation’s lesser lights – the likes of Dejan Lovren and Andrej Kramarić and Ante Rebić – play for big clubs, and it’s hard to imagine a more united team in the tournament than the Vatreni.

It’s all been overseen by an unheralded coach in Zlatko Dalić, who was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina and only took the Croatia job ahead of their European playoff with Ukraine.

Had Croatia lost that tie, Dalić would almost certainly have shuffled back to the Middle East, where he went desperately close to leading Emirati club Al-Ain to an AFC Champions League title in 2016.

Instead, Dalić finds himself in a World Cup final, and it’s a testament to the chaotic nature of Croatian football – and a reminder that success is not guaranteed solely by curriculums and processes – that Croatia have enjoyed such an exhilarating run to the final despite their relatively humble means.

Now, a nation of just 4.1 million inhabitants – not to mention more than a few based here in Australia – awaits with bated breath to see if Dalić’s men can immortalise themselves in the annals of Croatian history.

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The team that reached the knock-out stage of Euro 1996 and the World Cup semi-finals in France two years later – that of Davor Šuker and Robert Robert Prosinečki et al – played with all the passion of a team enjoying its first ever steps as an independent nation.

Star midfielder Aljoša Asanović, who played in both of those tournaments, is these days the coach of Melbourne Knights in the National Premier Leagues Victoria.


And given how much Croatia has given to the game in Australia, wouldn’t it be fantastic to see the Vatreni lift the World Cup trophy at the imposing Luzhniki on Monday morning?

The question is whether Croatia can back up from a trio of knock-out games that went to extra-time – including a couple of penalty shoot-outs – in a row.

Will they have the legs? And just as importantly, will they be mentally fresh enough to manage the game effectively?

Much will depend on Modrić. He does more running than anyone on the pitch, but does he have enough left in the tank to unlock a French defence that has kept consecutive clean sheets against two much-vaunted attacking sides?

Whatever transpires in the early hours of Monday morning, this has truly been a tournament for the ages.

All it needs now is an unforgettable final and it may just rank as the greatest World Cup of all.