By Eric Elezuo
The stage is set for the grand finale of the FIFA 2018 World Cup taking place in Russia.
After an excruciating 30 days action, two teams have proved that they are the best among the lot.
With the likes of Germany, Brazil, Spain, Argentina and other football super powers falling along the way, France and new comers, Croatia, are set to slug it out for the coveted trophy.
While Croatia is hitting the finals of the FIFA World Cup for the very first time, France won it once when they hosted in 1998, and lost to Italy in the finals of the 2006 edition hosted by Germany.
Sunday’s game will be won on stamina and precision, recalling that both teams are yet to lose a game in all their attempts in the tournament. France have won all their games within 90 minutes while Croatia has been drawn into extra time in their knock out stage games including coming from behind to beat England 2 – 1 late in the extra time of their semi-final clash.
France, though surprised by the physical fortitude of Croatia, are not expecting a tired opponent in Sunday’s World Cup final.
Croatia have been forced into extra time in each of their three knockout matches, edging Denmark and hosts Russia on post-match penalties.
They also scored late in added play to come from behind and beat England in Wednesday’s semi-final in Moscow.
France by contrast have won all of their matches since the round of 16 inside 90 minutes, effectively playing a full match less than Croatia at the tournament in Russia.
But Matuidi said he did not think the Croats would be fatigued by their added time on the pitch over the last week.
“I don’t think it’s a factor,” he said at news conference at the French training base on the outskirts of Moscow.
“We saw in the last game that they finished the stronger of the two teams.
“They did not look like a side who were playing extra time for a third time in a row. Surprisingly, they looked like they were playing their first game.
“They are a team playing in the World Cup final, a team with players who have a lot of experience.
“It will be a match they will be ready for and I don’t think extra time or penalties has been or will be a handicap for them,” said Matuidi.
The 31-year-old, who said it would be his last World Cup, predicted an exciting final with a high level of expertise.
“They are a team who defend well and attack well after recovering the ball. We are up against players of a high quality and with lots of experience.
“It is going to be important to concentrate hard because they have tremendous qualities,” he said.
But it was much the same with the French team too, he added.
“It’s the game of our lives to play in a World Cup final, a dream I’ve had since I was a kid.
“The cup feels so close we can almost touch it but there is still a lot to do to get there.
“We’ve prepared everything to win the game even if its extra time or penalties. It’s the winning that counts,” he said.
On Saturday however, England will square Belgium for the third place game.