OTB World Cup Diary: The meaning of the World Cup Final, France v Croatia preview...
I watched my first World Cup Final in 1986, when I was 7, and I have been captivated by the occasion and the game itself ever since. I will never forget as a young boy the exotic nature of what was being beamed though the television screen from Mexico City. It was the Diego Maradona World Cup and an exciting final hooked me forever. Argentina were cruising at 2-0, West Germany scored two late goals to make it 2-2, and then Maradona delivered a magic pass for Jorge Burrchaga to score the winner, minutes from the end. 3-2.
I remember the 1990 Final as being a bad tempered, ugly game, in which West Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 via a dubious penalty. I loved the 1994 World Cup because one could watch the games from the USA late at night in Ireland. I was sorry for Roberto Baggio when he missed the decisive penalty kick. In 1998, I was shocked at how tamely Brazil folded following the Ronaldo 'will he or won't he play' controversy. I really only got to fully appreciate Zinedine Zidane that day. In 2002 I was delighted that Ronaldo scored twice in the decider for Brazil.
2006 was the first World Cup I remember celebrating, as I backed Italy at 10/1 before the tournament, and wearing a cotton replica of the 1982 jersey which was a couple of sizes too small, I got completely carried away and had to call my sister to drive into Dublin city to pick me up. In 2010 I was just relieved that Spain, a great team, won it, as I thought the Netherlands were anti-football in Johannesburg. In 2014, I made a 6000 mile journey to soak up the Final in Rio with the full intention of being there. Things didn't go to plan, but it doesn't matter, as I had one of the most memorable days of my life, as I touched upon on Twitter yesterday.
4 years ago today, my great friend, the late Johnny Lyons and I watched the World Cup Final in a pub outside the Maracana in Rio (long story). It’s my best memory of the legend. I will be thinking of him at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday. It’s important to remember. 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/tD5Yiatp8y— John Duggan (@JohnDugganSport) July 13, 2018
These are all the World Cup Finals I remember in my privileged life, but I know all about the Finals before these. Curiosity for history, archive footage and the words of the great football writer Brian Glanville helped me.
I know about England's 4-2 win over West Germany in 1966 and I am still unsure if Geoff Hurst's goal crossed the line. I know about 1970, because once you see Carlos Alberto's goal, Brazil's fourth in the 4-1 defeat of Italy, you understand why this is 'the beautiful game'. I know about the haunting, 'lost final' of 1974, as Johan Cruyff and the Netherlands, who dazzled the world, were sunk 2-1 by the tough Germans. I know of Argentina's win in the ticker tape final of 1978 and I know of the greatest celebration I have ever seen and will ever see in sport, that of Marco Tardelli as Italy surged to victory against West Germany in 1982.
You see, that's what the World Cup Final is. It's Marco Tardelli's celebration. He had reached the summit, with no higher place to go. On Sunday in Moscow, it's going to be the same for the winning players of France or Croatia.
In 2014, an estimated audience of 3.2 billion people watched the World Cup Final around the globe. The Olympics can boast higher numbers, but those figures are fragmented. The World Cup Final is the biggest event on the planet, every four years. Also, the Olympics is something to be viewed and celebrated from afar. Thousands of supporters of France and Croatia have now made the journey to Russia in the hope of victory and cherished lifetime memories.
So who is it going to be?
I think France.
Les Bleus have a great balance in their team. Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante have enjoyed a superb tournament. Kylian Mbappe will bring the romance, the unexpected, and his pace, skill and power will unnerve the Croatian defence. Antoine Griezmann had his best game to date in the semi final and that can only serve him well. Hugo Lloris has made important saves in the last two matches.
For Croatia, their midfield is excellent, and I love their composure with the ball. They play football the way it should be played, with belief and certainty, with a love of passing. Luka Modric is obviously a huge player for them, but Sime Vrsaljko, Ivan Perisic, Ante Rebic and Marcelo Brozovic have impressed me at various stages in the competition. Ivan Rakitic is a class act and Dejan Lovren is having a good month.
I worry for Croatia's match sharpness, as they have gone to extra time three games on the trot now. They are susceptible to pace and set pieces. What they have that France don't is a carefree nature, instilled by manager Zlatko Dalic, who I found highly impressive at Saturday's press conference. He just wants his team to enjoy it and embrace it. For France, the pressure is immense after the Euro 2016 Final defeat to Portugal. They know the chasm between victory and defeat tomorrow is huge. They cannot afford to fail.
Croatia are a country of 4.3 million people, that has experienced the sadness of war in the last 30 years. France have a population of 67 million people. A Croatian win would be beautiful. That's what the heart says, but the head says France, in normal time, to cement their status at the best team of this World Cup and with Mbappe to make his mark on it, like another teenager Pele did, all of 60 years ago.
Enjoy your World Cup Final.