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France, Croatia to fight for the 2018 World Cup



MOSCOW (AP) – France is established power with a young team full of speed and skill. Croatia has veterans who have shown that they can never be calculated.

The two sides will meet on Sunday in the World Cup, with France going for their second title in their third final in 20 years. Croatia, a country that only gained independence in 1991, will play in its first.

"The tradition is being demolished," Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said on Saturday. "I'm not interested in who is the opponent."

Most people think France is favorite for the match at the Luzhniki Stadium, just like two years ago when the country's national team met Portugal in the EM final at home.

But maybe, of course, having hit Germany in the semifinals, France fled.

"I do not think it will happen again," said French captain Hugo Lloris, who has been the star in goal during this year's tournament. "We are far from thinking about our side that we have already reached the target."

Lloris was the goalkeeper in the 1

-0 loss in Paris, facing a Portugal team who had reached the final after a few extra times.

Croatia has done the same thing this year and needs punishing kick to beat Denmark and host Russia before he beat England in extra time in the semifinals.

France coach Didier Deschamps has made some changes in his team. Fourteen, to be exact, from the 23 players who took up the team two years ago.

Another factor in France's favor is rest. The French only had two rest days between the Euro 2016 semifinals and the final. This time, they have four full days to recover, one more than Croatia.

"Many things have changed," said Lloris. "Especially in terms of recovery and preparation time."

Croatia has also played much more football in its six matches in Russia. With their last three games going extra time, the team has played a full 90 minutes more than France. It was also the extra stress of two penalty games.

It's all behind them.

"Now there is no pressure," Dalic said through a translator. "This is just the best moment in all of us. We've come here to enjoy the finals."

FIRST WIN

Croatia has not hit France in five matches since it was approved as a member of FIFA membership in 1992.

The first match was the most significant – a 2-1 win for France in the 1998 World Cup Semifinal at Stade de France outside Paris.

A Euro 2004 group game ended in a 2-2 run, and their last match was a 0-0 break in March 2011 in Paris.

UNBEATEN TEAMS

Both teams were undefeated in the group phase, and France has only slipped for nine minutes throughout the tournament.

Argentina's 2-1 lead in the second half of a round of 16 games was wiped out by defender Benjamin Pavard's long-distance shot. Kylian Mbappe then exploded for two quick goals in the 4-3 win.

Croatia's 3-0 victory over Argentina was a prominent result in the group phase. The team never won in victory over Nigeria and Iceland.

It has been different in the knockout rounds. Croatia acknowledged the opening goal in each game before they rally to advance.

BACKGROUND TO LUZHNIKI

Both teams have played a game at Luzhniki Stadium so far.

Croatia beat England 2-1 on Wednesday, while France's 0-0 runaway with Denmark in their last group game ended with Russian fans who showed the tournament's only pointless rubbish.

The last two World Cup finals were 0-0 after 90 minutes, both of which were settled by a single goal in the second half of extra time.

BACK HOME

"Win or lose," said Dalic, "it will be a seismic event in Croatia."

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