Pinoy fans brace for World Cup final between powerhouse France and underdog Croatia

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Croatia's fans watch the broadcast of the World Cup semi-final match between Croatia and England in the fan zone. (REUTERS/Antonio Bronic)

The final stage is set. Upstart Croatia will face off against historical powerhouse France in the final round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Fans of the world’s most popular sport, including those in the Philippines, are drawing lines in the days leading up to the much-awaited match between regular contender France and dark horse Croatia.

Final showdown

The French are fresh from a 1-0 victory over star-studded Belgium, while the Croats just came from breaking the hearts of England with a 2-1 win.

Some are rooting for the underdog Croatia, while others are expecting a win from usual favorites France.

France is looking to win its second trophy since 1998, when it demolished five-time champion Brazil 3-0.

The French had the chance to win their second trophy in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but were edged out by Italy 1-0.

Bannering Les bleus are star forwards Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, and Claude Dembelé.

Manchester United star Paul Pogba and Chelsea’s N’golo Kante are expected to shine for the French midfield.

Les bleus‘ defense meanwhile is expected to rely on the goalkeeping expertise of captain Hugo Lloris, bolstered by the coverage of Samuel Umtiti, Raphaël Varane, and Benjamin Pavard.

Croatia on the one hand will be making their debut in the World Cup’s final stage. Their highest finish prior to this year’s tournament was a third place finish in 1998—the same year France hit gold.

The Eastern European team is expected to rely on the services of Mario Mandžukić, the veteran forward from powerhouse Italian club Juventus and its renowned midfield unit that includes captain Luka Modrić from Real Madrid, considered the best midfielder in the world, Ivan Rakitić from Barcelona, and Ivan Perišić from Internazionale.

World football’s international ranking system favors France. It is ranked seventh in the current FIFA rankings, while Croatia sits at the 20th spot.

Historically, France has produced more stars and has made more trips to the World Cup, having qualified for 14 appearances in the grand stage. It last failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994.

Croatia on the one hand has made the World Cup five times since it broke away from Yugoslavia in 1990. It has missed only the 2010 World Cup since the dissolution of Yugoslavia.