Weblog: The football punter

France have what it takes to win the World Cup

The World Cup final
BBC1 & ITV, 4pm Sunday

France flopped as strong favourites on home soil in the Euro 2016 final but they can make amends by winning the one that matters most against Croatia to lift the World Cup in Moscow.

Six starters from that painful extra-time defeat to Portugal in Paris are likely to be in Didier Deschamps' starting 11, although the team is immeasurably superior in places after upgrades on the likes of Bacary Sagna, Patrice Evra and Moussa Sissoko.

Debate has raged as to whether France should be more exciting with the incredible talent at their disposal, but as a player Deschamps only cared about winning as he skippered Les Bleus to World Cup and European Championship glory and it is pretty much the same now he is the boss.

France headed to Russia in shaky form and with questions being asked about their defence, who had kept only one clean sheet in six games. They conceded three times to Colombia in March and drew 1-1 with the United States in their last warm-up fixture but Deschamps found a solution just in time.

The defensively-minded Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard have filled the full-back positions, Paul Pogba is being used in a more conservative midfield role and Blaise Matuidi's first thought is to help those behind him despite slotting in on the left of the three in a 4-2-3-1.

Les Bleus have recorded four clean sheets in six matches during the finals and it would have been five but for a crazy handball from the otherwise excellent Samuel Umtiti to gift Australia a penalty.

Only once - in their 4-3 last-16 success over Argentina - have France looked anything other than in total control and it was still mighty impressive to see them overcome a 2-1 deficit with a devastating three-goal salvo in 11 minutes.

Defence usually comes out on top in tournaments and France's last two wins over Uruguay and Belgium have come without conceding, and they are arguably even better than the bare numbers suggest.

The Statsbomb website has France's expected goals against figure at only 0.47 per game with each shot against them averaging just a 0.05 chance of a goal. Despite dividing opinion, Deschamps has coached a disciplined side who give up few decent chances to their opponents.

Raphael Varane has been fantastic alongside Umtiti at the heart of the defence and N'Golo Kante's stock continues to rise, while behind all of them stands Golden Glove favourite Hugo Lloris.

Given the way France have excelled defensively and the trend of recent World Cups - since 1990 there have been just eight goals in normal time in seven finals - those looking for more va va voom from backing the favourites could consider the win to nil at 17-10.

However, in fairness to Croatia they have scored in every match and their spirit cannot be questioned following a dramatic knockout run which has seen them win penalty shootouts against Denmark and Russia and triumph in extra-time against England.

Luka Modric has been as influential as ever but he will likely be swamped by Kante, Pogba and Matuidi. The trio have already combined to lock down Lionel Messi and Kevin De Bruyne in the tournament.

The win over England showed that fatigue may not be an overriding factor as Croatia finished strongly, but their run has been comfortable with matches against teams quoted before the tournament at odds of 18-1, 50-1 and 100-1.

Croatia have still managed to concede first, and early, in their three knockout ties with Denmark and England hitting the front inside five minutes and any kind of slackness will surely be punished by Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

Misfiring France forward Olivier Giroud has failed to hit a shot on target in the World Cup and is the kind of physical target man that will suit Croatian centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida, but Griezmann and Mbappe offer different threats.

Mbappe has been a joy to watch in the knockout phase, producing breathtaking moments against Argentina and Belgium with his pace from wide, while Griezmann's ability to drop into space between the lines is a nightmare for opponents.

Football may not be coming home this summer but the World Cup probably is, seeing as the concept for this competition came from French Fifa president Jules Rimet, and Les Bleus look a fair bet to win in 90 minutes.

France to win in 90 minutes

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