France vs. Croatia

Time: 11 a.m. Sunday
City: Moscow (Luzhniki Stadium)

TV: Fox in English (streaming here), Telemundo in Spanish (streaming here)
Radio: TuneIn streaming and Sirius XM channel 83 in English, Fútbol de Primera in Spanish (WMBV-AM 1440 is the local outlet)

Key players and matchups to watch

France's Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kanté vs. Croatia's Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic

This is the showdown that everyone in the soccer world is salivating over. Modric and Rakitic are among the world's best creators, not just for Croatia but also for their club teams: global superpowers Real Madrid and Barcelona, respectively. Pogba and Kanté bring a perfect combination of intelligence, tenacity, grit and hustle — and club pedigrees with Manchester United and Chelsea. They've shut down every major attacking force they've faced in this World Cup, from Argentina's Lionel Messi to Belgium's Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

The winning midfield tandem will likely lift the World Cup trophy — and whichever of Kanté and Modric prevails might lift the Golden Ball trophy as the tournament's most outstanding player.

Croatia's Mario Mandzukic vs. France's Raphaël Varane

Mandzukic is a 6-foot-3 beast of a striker with 31 goals in 86 national team games, including the winner against England in the semifinals. Varane is a 6-foot-3 beast of a centerback who anchors a backline that has delivered shutouts in four of France's five World Cup games. This will be soccer's equivalent of two big men battling in the post on a basketball court, or a star wide receiver facing a shutdown cornerback on the gridiron.

Raphaël Varane has been a star at centerback for France during the World Cup.
Martin Meissner/AP
Raphaël Varane has been a star at centerback for France during the World Cup.

France's Kylian Mbappé vs. Croatia's Ivan Perisic

These are the players most likely to do something unpredictable. They're wingers in theory, but have free rein to go almost anywhere on the field. Mbappé can crown his rise from 19-year-old phenom to global superstar at this World Cup, and if he adds to his three goals in the tournament so far, he could win the Golden Ball. Perisic has two goals and an assist, including one of each against England.

France's Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud vs. themselves

As France rekindles memories of its legendary 1998 World Cup triumph, historians have noted the many ways in which the current squad resembles the one of 20 years ago.

The most prominent link, of course, is the great diversity of both teams, especially their embrace of African immigrant populations in Paris and other cities.

They also share a lack of goals from their strikers. In 1998, all of Les Bleus' goals from the group stage finale through the final came from midfielders and defenders. This year, two of Griezmann's three goals have come from penalty kicks, and Giroud hasn't scored at all.

France is already the favorite in this game (and this writer's pick to win, for the record). If Griezmann or Giroud scores in the final, the odds France prevails go way up.

Olivier Giroud has taken 13 shots in France’s games at the World Cup — including six against Belgium — but has yet to score.
Petr David Josek/AP
Olivier Giroud has taken 13 shots in France’s games at the World Cup — including six against Belgium — but has yet to score.

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