France are clear favorites to win Sunday’s World Cup final against Croatia. Anyone who has seen the
performances of this French side, which has no apparent weaknesses and that
has gone from strength to strength over their six matches in Russia, will
agree with that assessment.
However, there is another reason why France have to be considered
favorites in the Luzhniki Stadium; they have played a lot less football than
their opponents over the past two weeks.
The last fortnight has seen both France and Croatia navigate three games
in the knockout stages to get to the big event. But while France have won all
of those games in 90 minutes, beating Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium on the
way to the final, Croatia needed extra-time in all of their matches and
penalties in two of them.
Denmark were sent packing after a penalty shootout in the last 16 and
Russia met the same fate in the quarterfinals before Croatia’s 2-1 win over
England on Wednesday. That means that the Croatians have played an extra 90
minutes of football (effectively an entire match) more than the French since
June 30. Perhaps because of that no player has covered more ground than the
63 kilometers done by midfielder Luka Modric.
The French also played their semifinal against Belgium on Tuesday, while
Croatia played their 120 minutes against England on Wednesday: meaning not
only did they play 30 minutes more than France, they also have 24 hours less
to recover and to prepare for the final.
That becomes even more important seeing as how many key members of the
Croatian side; Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Vedran Corluka, Mario Mandzukic and
Ivan Strinic, are aged 30 or over, when the body tends to need longer to
recover. Only three members of the expected French starting 11 (Olivier
Giroud, Blaise Matuidi and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris) are over 30 and the next
oldest, Antoine Griezmann and N’Golo Kante are both 27.
Of course many thought fatigue could be a factor for Croatia’s semifinal
against England after they played 120 minutes in the heat and humidity of
Sochi. Croatia finished the semifinal the stronger of the two sides, but
logic says that in the final, time is very much on France’s side.