After a number of heated exchanges on the pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo has seen red in his first ever Champions League appearance for Juventus.
The World Cup in Russia is drawing to a close as France and Croatia take their respective places on the biggest stage imaginable. One will leave heartbroken and forlorn while the other will be crowned champion of the World.
France have been the tortoise of the tournament; slowly but surely building match after match and they arrive at the foot of the final mountain fresh and fit.
Croatia have had a more arduous adventure throughout the event with extra-time, shootouts and injuries threatening to stifle their progress.
To their credit, the Croatians have battled bravely and the 2-1 victory over the English in the semi-final was symbolic of their resilience. The French took down Belgium in a 1-0 win and without being spectacular, their defensive solidity was a key feature.
The panel have battled hopelessly at times in the face of upsets and unpredictability and the roar of the crowd looks like taking victory in the tipping race. Unless, that is, Daniel Jeffrey can pull a rabbit from his hat on the last weekend and add the World Cup tipping title to his A-League success from earlier in the year.
Make sure you put your tips into the space below and have a say in the penultimate and final match of the 2018 World Cup.
For the last time, here are the predictions of the panel, one that has enjoyed sharing their thoughts and tips with you over the last month.
This will be the second time these teams have met and the circumstances are similar this time around. Belgium’s win in the group stage was achieved with many rested players and in a lacklustre match that told us very little.
This time around both teams will be flat, with the disappointment of coming so close to, yet still being so far from, the most revered trophy in sports.
Belgium have impressed slightly more than England in the tournament and they will probably earn what will feel like something of a hollow victory after the disappointment of the semi-final.
France will win the World Cup Final by a comfortable three goals. Croatia’s long road will play a role and exhaustion will finally take hold against the most solid and consistent team in Russia.
Croatia will compete early and do possess some weapons that can hurt the French yet the defensive prowess of Les Bleus will prove too much over the long haul.
The win will see Didier Deschamps master the challenge of successfully gelling the immense talent that the French have at their disposal.
I think Belgium will prove too strong for a demoralised England in the third-place playoff. The Red Devils will simply want it more against an England side that has already mentally checked out of the tournament.
My head says France but my heart – and my tip – says that Croatia will win the World Cup Final. The Croatians will need a superhuman effort to win it. But they’ve already showcased as much to get this far, and I’m hoping they can cause one more upset in this most unpredictable of World Cups.
Third-place play-offs have been veritable goal fests in comparison to recent finals, so I’m looking forward to tonight’s game, one in which Belgium look to have the edge.
The Red Devils have played the better football in Russia, and while Roberto Martinez was out-coached in their semi-final, that same criticism can be directed at Gareth Southgate. Plus, there’d be something delightfully English about finishing fourth after having such a good chance to make it to the decider.
It’s similarly difficult to go past the team from the tougher side of the draw in the final. France haven’t been half as terrifying as they could be with the talent at Didier Deschamps’ disposal, but there’s no denying their ruthless efficiency and defensive prowess. Les Bleus have only conceded in two games all tournament (there’s something for the Socceroos to be proud of), and their quality on the counter-attack is immense.
As for Croatia, I don’t know how that team is still standing. They’ve now had to play a full 90 minutes more than France, and yet delivered on each occasion in the knockout stages. It’s a truly remarkable effort for them to get to the final, but winning it all will require a monumental step up – or France, who have the added bonus of an extra day’s rest, to fall in a heap.
The final will come down to the battle between the two players of the tournament: N’Golo Kante and Luka Modric. Both have been superb, Modric in his attacking role and the Frenchman defusing threats in front of the defence.
As good as the Croatian skipper is, Kante is capable of nullifying him. If he does, the platform will be there for the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to dominate up front and lead France to their second World Cup trophy.
I said prior to the first match between these two teams that I actually fancied England’s B team against Belgium’s. I think that might prove to be the case again, but Belgium will be able to bring on better players off the bench to win, in hopefully a more entertaining game than the non-event last time out.
Although this is an unusual final nobody could have predicted, the actual game itself feels predictable. France have shown far more all-round ability to control and manage games against stronger teams than Croatia, and appear to be in the mood to simply get the job done.
The caveat, of course, is that Croatia keep pulling new rabbits out of a surprisingly deep hat. They have Modric and Rakitic able to take control of games in second halves and the underrated ability to simply score goals when needed.
I still think the final is one stretch too far, as I have in every Croatian game to this point. I’ll probably be wrong but feel that France, although uninspiring, have enough sum in their parts (although, not the greatest sum you could come up with considering this group of players) to win the final.
After all these years they still have a third place playoff? Is it really worth one point in tipping comps?
It’s rather amusing that on both occasions England and Belgium have met at this World Cup, they have fielded their B-grade teams. In the group fixture I picked England, assuming they had greater depth but the result ran counter to my logic. Now the counter-logic says Belgium should win so for that reason I will use counter-counter-logic to tip England.
Hopefully, both teams will come out to play and should put on an entertaining fixture. It could end up 3-2 or something like that, with some laughs along the way. My assumption is that England emerged slightly more upbeat from their semi-final loss than Belgium, and that should be enough to get the Three Lions home.
I can’t believe the 2018 World Cup final is nearly over. It’s almost like waving an old friend goodbye. There is a rumour going around that Daniel will award ten bonus points if your initial tournament pick gets up, (in truth, I might have started that rumour.) So having tipped France from the outset, I don’t have any great reservations in tipping them to beat Croatia.
I know Luka Modric told the press they were disrespecting Croatia by mentioning how exhausted they are but surely now after three straight extra-time games, they must be close to their physical limit. Three extra times is 90 minutes – that’s a whole extra match.
How will France beat such a tight-knit opponent? Although Modric may be the best midfielder in the tournament, France’s midfield is not too shabby. Paul Pogba is starting to hit some form; his loping runs and ability to draw a foul are priceless.
I enjoyed the work of Blaise Matuidi against Belgium in the semi-final and N’golo Kante is also performing well. Needless to say, Antoine Griezmann has the ability to cause panic in the Croatian defence.
The French will be hard to crack. In Varane and Samuel Umtiti they have defenders of outstanding skill and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris is just about the best in the world at the moment.
Croatia have had a remarkable tournament. For such a small country to have progressed this far says a lot about their technical ability, the strength of the football culture, and most importantly, the pride in the jersey. Australia has benefited from the Croatian diaspora and they will have many supporters in this part of the world.
You only have to look at the goal celebrations of Domagoj Vida against Russia in the quarter final to see what this tournament means to Croatia. I’m not sure what you call that hairstyle of his, but the wanton, shirt-ripping, yellow-card-be-dammed spectacle was something worth seeing.
Not having a world-class striker doesn’t seem to worry Croatia – they have shared the goals around and won’t care who gets on the scoresheet against France.
It promises to be a superb match. For all Croatia’s physical hurdles, if the game goes to extra time they will feel they have the mental edge.
For France to come out on top, I believe they must win in normal time and I think Kylian Mbappe’s speed will disrupt the Croatian defence towards the end. France to win 2-0 with both goals scored after the 80th minute.
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