Croatia tops England to face France in 2018 World Cup final

When France won the World Cup back in 1998, Antoine Griezmann was just 7 years old and Kylian Mbappé was …

When France won the World Cup back in 1998, Antoine Griezmann was just 7 years old and Kylian Mbappé was still months from being born. Twenty years later, both French star forwards have a chance to write themselves into the history books when they take on Croatia in the World Cup Final on Sunday.

France took down Belgium 1-0 on Tuesday to secure its spot thanks to Samuel Umtiti’s header in the second half via a corner by Griezmann in the 50th minute. Once again, the French defense stepped up to the challenge and shut down any chance for Belgium to come back.

Belgium, however, wasn’t too happy with France’s style of play after the loss.

“They have played anti-football,” Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtouis said to reporters after the match. “They defended in their own half the entire time. They’ve done that all tournament and it’s a shame. I have not yet experienced that an opposing striker plays so far from goal.”

France, led by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, is currently riding a 180-minute shutout streak dating back to its 2-0 win in the quarterfinals against Uruguay. The team’s youth and momentum has made Les Bleus a clear favorite to win the final on Sunday.

But Croatia won’t go quietly.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Croatia became the second-smallest nation in World Cup history to reach the final after stunning England 2-1 in extra time Wednesday.

England started off hot after Kieran Trippier buried a free kick in the fifth minute, and Croatia spent the rest of the first half creating viable opportunities to pull even. Ivan Perisic’s goal in the 68th minute finally tied the match, then, after a nail-biting second half, Croatia stunned English fans with a game-deciding 109th minute goal by Mario Mandzukic.

Croatia’s Golden Generation enters Sunday’s final as the most battle-tested side of anyone in the knockouts. Wednesday’s win was the team’s third straight in extra time — a first for any nation in World Cup history — adding that much more sparkle to its Cinderella story.

France and Croatia last met in a World Cup knockout in Croatia’s 1998 semifinal run, where it lost 2-1 to the eventual champions. This year, both sides are undefeated entering the final.

A prior version of this story incorrectly stated Kylian Mbappé’s age during the 1998 World Cup.

Jeff Weisinger