SANTA MONICA — The stage is set, the finalist are picked, and the championship game is scheduled. France and Croatia will battle it out for the World Champion title on Sunday at 8 a.m.
France clinched its semi-final win with a 1-0 victory over Belgium Tuesday morning. The French showed no mercy against its opponent taking 19 shots on the night. However, the majority of the match favored the Belgians who controlled 64 percent of the possession and performed a 91 percent passing accuracy, but the mistakes Belgium made turned out to be the deciding factor of the day.
Belgium recorded 16 fouls and collected three yellow cards on the night, but it will only regret the one time the ball went out the back line and handed France the corner kick that would carry it to the championship game. In the 51st minute, France defender Samuel Umtiti put his head on a corner kick curled into the box by Antoine Griezmann. The header would not only be France’s golden ticket into the World Cup final but also a record as Umtiti became only the third defender to score in such a prestigious tournament.
While the goal would end up the game’s deciding factor, the patience and discipline the French defense held off the Belgian advances. France often sat back and waited for the offensive opportunities to present themselves, controlling much of the game from the back half of the field.
While France ended within the restrictions of regular play, Croatia and England headed well into overtime before a clear winner was found. Croatia punched its ticket to the World Cup with a 2-1 win in extra time against England Wednesday morning.
Sadly, it’s not coming home to England this World Cup. Despite the surreal run England had throughout the 2018 tournament, Croatia stoppered the standout England team and broke the hearts of thousands of England fans across the world, but it was a battle unlike any other.
The English claimed first blood in the fifth minute of play after Croatia coughed up a vital free kick to England. Kieran Trippier booted the direct kick undefended straight in the goal as he slipped the shot just under the middle of the crossbar, putting England up 1-0 early on. It took a while for Croatia to catch up, but eventually, it found a way to rally back against the designated home team, netting two of its 22 shots on the night.
Perišić became the rally cry behind the Croatian team. Leading his team offensively, he rallied Croatia in one of the country’s greatest comebacks in history. With the game knocked 1-1, England and Croatia headed into the second half of extra time, looking at a good chance of heading into penalty kicks — until the 109th minute when Perišić showed up that is. Chipping the ball, Perišić popped the ball over the English defense as teammate Mario Mandžukić crashed the goal and tapped the ball around the English keeper to propel Croatia into the World Cup finals. Perišić also scored the equalizer in the 68th minute of regular play.
France and Croatia now face off on Sunday, July 15 at 8 a.m. The only question is if Croatia can repeat its performance against France, the favorite of the match according to a poll on Fox Soccer’s Twitter. At the time of this article, France sat at 62 percent while Croatia was the clear underdog at 38 percent.