2018 World Cup final predictions: will it be France or Croatia who lift the trophy?

It's France across the board ahead of Sunday's showpiece in Moscow

A combination of file pictures shows Croatia's midfielder Luka Modric (R) in Sochi on July 7, 2018 and France's forward Antoine Griezmann in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018 during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. France are firm favourites to win the final showpiece in Moscow on July 15, 2018 and become world champions for the second time -- 20 years after their first triumph in 1998. But they will come up against a hungry Croatia side. - 
 / AFP / Pierre-Philippe MARCOU AND Gabriel BOUYS
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John McAuley, sports reporter

Croatia are the better story, but I feel there won't be a fairytale ending. Their past three matches have stretched to 120 minutes - two to penalties - and that will take its toll against a much fresher France. Captain Luka Modric has run 63 kilometres in Russia – more than any other player at the tournament. Another Herculean effort could just be beyond Croatia. France, meanwhile, boast N’Golo Kante’s energy and Kylian Mbappe’s explosive space: a combination that should be too much for Zlatko Dalic’s men. They have more obvious match-winners, too, with Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, not at his best thus far, maybe saving his best for another final. France to get the job done.

Prediction: France win 2-0


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Ian Hawkey, European football correspondent

In French eyes, Croatia are looking ominously like Portugal did two summers ago.

Then, France took on in the final of Euro 2016 a team who had struggled to win matches on the way there, reliant on extra-time and penalty shoot-outs. And France then lost, in extra-time to a Portugal without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo.

A signpost to a major upset in the Luzhniki? Croatia will be canny, patient and the French should clearly not anticipate symptoms of fatigue, which for all their long nights of extra-time, against Denmark, Russia and England, these Croatians seem to have found an innate antidote for.

But France are a matured team since two years ago, and sturdily equipped to keep a lead once they have it, something the Danes, the Russians and the English could not manage.

France have the means to pierce the Croatian back line, too, in the pace and guile of Mbappe and Griezmann.

Prediction: France to win 3-1.

A combination of file pictures shows France's forward Kylian Mbappe (R) in Saint Petersburg on July 10, 2018 and Croatia's forward Mario Mandzukic in Nizhny Novgorod on July 1, 2018 during the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament. France are firm favourites to win the final showpiece in Moscow on July 15, 2018 and become world champions for the second time -- 20 years after their first triumph in 1998. But they will come up against a hungry Croatia side. - 
 / AFP / Gabriel BOUYS AND Johannes EISELE
Mario Mandzukic, left, fired Croatia into Sunday's World Cup final with a winner against England, while Kylian Mbappe of France has cored three times in Russia to propel Les Bleus to the final. AFP

Graham Caygill, sports editor

On paper this feels like a game too far for Croatia. It has been a superb effort to get through three knockout games that all went 120 minutes and still be standing going into the final.

France will be the best side they have faced in the tournament by far and that quality will be decisive.

France have the midfield depth to prevent Luka Modric dominating the centre of the park the way he did against England.

And they have the variables of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Groud to trouble the Croatia backline more consistently then Denmark, Russia and England managed to do.

Croatia need to make this a gritty affair to stand a chance, but France will just have too much for them in the end.

Prediction: France prevail 3-0


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Steve Luckings, deputy sports editor

If the sense is that France have - save for the 4-3 win over Argentina in the last 16 - largely played within themselves, Croatia have strained every last ounce of blood and sweat just to make it to the World Cup final.

There 3-0 win over Argentina was arguably the result of the group phase, but Zlatko Dalic's side have been taken to extra time three times in their three knockout games - against Denmark, Russia and England - requiring penalties, and nerves of steel from Ivan Rakitic, in two of them to reach the championship game.

They rode their luck against England in the first half and there is a question over whether Ivan Perisic's equaliser should have stood due to a high foot. But then most successful teams enjoy Lady Luck smiling down on them.

That's not to say Croatia don't deserve their place in Sunday's showpiece. Take away the first 45 minutes against England and Croatia were the better team, punishing Gareth Southgate's young squad for not making their early dominance count for more.

They face a France side though who just look stronger in all departments. Hugo Lloris has made sensational saves in the wins over Uruguay and Belgium, Raphael Varane was superb in the semi-final win over the latter, while a superstar midfield of N'Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba exert total dominance - in attack and defence - in every game.

Add a potent attacking front three of Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud, who has proved the perfect foil for the others two front players to flourish, gives France a huge edge.

Prediction: France 3-1 Croatia


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Richard Jolly, English football correspondent

Croatia are the romantic choice, both for their capacity to mount comebacks and because a country of their size may never win the World Cup again. Yet France feel the more realistic winners: a fresher, focused side with a fine defence, a midfield who can both regain possession and supply their forwards and, in Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, potential match-winners.

Much will rest on if N’Golo Kante can stop Luka Modric creating and whether Raphael Varane can subdue Mario Mandzukic as well as if France, who were too complacent in the Euro 2016 final, do not take victory for granted again.

Prediction: France to win 2-0.