Hopeful Croatia take on formidable France in World Cup 2018 final

France will be playing in their third final but for Croatia, it is uncharted territory with their maiden appearance.

    Hopeful Croatia take on formidable France in World Cup 2018 final
    France have scored 10 goals in this tournament, two less than Croatia [Toru Hanai/Reuters]

    Follow Al Jazeera's coverage of the World Cup 2018 here. 

    The World Cup 2018 final takes place in Moscow on Sunday.

    The lineup? One that few would have predicted when Russia took on Saudi Arabia in the tournament opener on June 14.

    France will be taking part in their third final, having won at home in 1998.

    For Croatia, however, it is uncharted territory, having improved on their semi-final best by beating England 2-1.

    With a population of just under 4.2 million, Croatia is not the smallest nation to reach the final but they are the lowest-ranked to do so, sitting 20th on the rankings list.

    That hasn't stopped the nation from hoping for what was once unthinkable.

    The Sportske Novosti newspaper calls it "Dream, Dream, Dream!".

    "The nation is in a trance", said the Jutarnji List.

    Europe's football chief, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, said called it "a miracle to come to the World Cup final".

     

    But a day before the final, the Croatian capital, Zagreb, was calm. The Saturday morning did not seem too different from any other Saturdays.

    Some people were busy doing this grocery shopping at Dolac, a farmers' market in the very heart of the city. Others spent the morning lazily sipping espressos and soaking up the sun on one of many Zagreb cafes' terraces.

    Come Sunday, the giant screen in the main square, Ban Jelacic, will take centre stage.

    Multiple trucks blocked the central square for a couple of hours and dismantled a "fan zone" tent to make room for a bigger one.

    The square can host 20,000 people but 50,000 are expected. A further 100,000 are expected to descend to the capital for the team's welcoming party that is scheduled for Monday regardless of the result.

    A bakery in Zagreb offering a discount on 'francuz' (the Frenchman), with a poster reading 'We will eat the French for lunch' [Jelena Prtoric/Al Jazeera]

    "Many people thought we wouldn't get this far that we would not get this far. But on Sunday we will rewrite history," Linda Spajic, 29, told Al Jazeera.

    "I was nine when Croatia last played France in the World Cup. I remember the game, I remember the atmosphere on the main square and people partying on the streets. No matter what the result, I am proud of our team." 

    The team's success has also boosted the sales of World Cup-related merchandise, national team jerseys, Croatian flags and checkerboard attire.

    At a stand on the main square, Dragan Uzunoski, one of the vendors, said the most popular jersey is that of the Luka Modric.

    For some businesses, the final is an opportunity for advertisement, as well.

    Zagreb city centre preparing for Sunday's final [Jelen Prtoric/Al Jazeera]

     

    The biggest supermarket chain in the country, Konzum, is offering a 10 percent discount to all those that come dressed in a supporters' attire.

    The national railway company has advertised a 50 percent discount on all the tickets for those who want to come to the capital for the team's homecoming.

    A bakery chain located in Zagreb is offering a 30 percent discount on "francuz" (the Frenchman), a type of bread in Croatia.

    "We are going to have the French for lunch," reads the poster placed in their shop window, featuring a man in a checkerboard hat eating a baguette.

    France, meanwhile, are determined not to make the same mistakes from 2016 when they lost to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final.

    They were favourites then and carry the same tag into Sunday's final.

    "We are conscious of the situation. We do not want to make the same mistakes like two years ago. We want to work for it, to give everything we have to take this Cup home," said Paul Pogba.

    "I think at the Euro we thought it was already a done deal, the mentality was not the same as now. I cannot lie that when we beat Germany we thought that was the final. I know the taste of losing a final. I don't want it to happen again.

    "For us, we are not the favourites. We stay as we are from the start of the tournament. We have no doubts, we play together, that's our strength. We are chasing something and will do everything to succeed."

    Superstition may also have a role to play on the field on Sunday.

    "On their way to winning the Cup in 1998, French defender Laurent Blanc would kiss the bald head of goal-keeper Fabian Barthez before every game," said Al Jazeera's Andy Richardson, reporting from Moscow.

    "Two decades on, this French squad has taken to stroking the facial hair of defender Adil Rami before kick-off.

    With additional reporting by Jelena Prtoric in Zagreb, Croatia. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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