France goes for its second World Cup title when it faces Croatia in the final on Sunday. Its coach, Didier Deschamps, knows all about winning, having captained Les Bleus when they won in 1998.
Deschamps' rigorous approach might not appeal to everyone, but it has
certainly been effective.
Here are five reasons why France should win ...
1. France came through toughest side of
On one side, there's France, which played Argentina (the 2014 runner-up), Uruguay (unbeaten and untied in four games) and Belgium (unbeaten and untied in five
On the other side, Croatia played Denmark, Russia and England -- three group runners-up -- and it needed overtime (and in two cases penalty kicks) to beat them.
France had the far tougher road to the final and won all three games in convincing fashion.
2. France has still more to offer.
Except for nine minutes early in the second half
against Argentina, France has not trailed at the World Cup.
Les Bleus coasted through the group stage and shifted into cruise control in the knockout stage. Only once did they operate at
top speed, and that was after falling behind in Kazan, blitzing the Argentines for three goals in 11 minutes.
They have gotten better each game in the tournament yet still seem capable of
producing more. 3. This time it is France that has extra day.
A lot has been made of how tired Croatia will
be. It will not only enter the final having played the equivalent of an extra day, but it will have one less day of rest. France knows what that's like.
In 2006, it lost to Italy in the
World Cup final after playing its semifinal against Portugal a day after the Azzurri knocked off host Germany. Two years ago, France had one less day to recover after beating Germany in the European
Championship semifinals and lost to Portugal in the final.
4. France wins with its defense-first attitude.
won the UEFA Champions League again with Real Madrid, 25-year-old central defender Raphael Varane is being mentioned as a contender for the Ballon d'Or. (If Croatia wins on Sunday, the favorite
will be club teammate Luka Modric.)
Varane has marshaled the best defense at the World Cup. Behind him is Hugo Lloris, who has come up with big saves in the wins over
Australia, Peru, Uruguay and Belgium. Alongside Varane are Samuel Umtiti in the middle and outside backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez. (The scary part? None of the three is
older than 24.)
In front of Varane are N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Blas Matuidi, but a major reason for France's lock-down defense has been the work of forwards
Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann coming back to support the defense.
How good was France against Belgium? Les Bleus limited the best attack at the World Cup to nine
shots and needed to commit only six fouls to shut out the Red Devils.
5. France has the most exciting player in the
How important is the work of Giroud and Griezmann on the defensive side? It lets Kylian Mbappe off the hook from most defensive duties -- quite a testament
to how, at the age of 19, he is already the star of the show.
France let Belgium attack 7-on-9, knowing that the three Red Devils in the back had to respect Mbappe's speed. (It also knew
they offered nothing offensively.)
But as he showed with his double back-heel flick, Mbappe isn't a one trick pony.