BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Another major milestone is reached on Sunday when France play Croatia in the final match of the Russia 2018 World Cup. Not only is it a replay of the France ’98 World Cup semi-final encounter, it is the 900th match since the first ever World Cup match was played in Montevideo on July 13, 1930.
The last milestone match of the World Cup, the 800th match was contested in Cuiaba, Brazil by Nigeria and Bosnia Herzegovina four years ago.
Incidentally, France will be involved in a World Cup milestone match for the second time and been involved in the very first World Cup match 88 years ago in their 4-1 defeat of Mexico.
Now they face Croatia, a country that has never beaten the former World Cup champions in their previous five clashes. The most famous of those clashes was the semi-final duel 20 years ago, when France had to come from a goal down to eventually win 2-1. This is the ninth all-European final match.
But the Cinderella story of Croatia cannot be easily swept aside. They are the second World Cup contestants to reach the final match
Croatia are the second team to reach the World Cup Final after qualifying for the tournament via the play-offs where they overcame Greece.
The first side to do it were Germany in 2002, who secured their tournament berth by defeating Ukraine over two legs.
France are contesting their third title decider, after beating Brazil 3-0 in 1998 and losing on penalties to Italy in 2006. Croatia, who are in the World Cup Final for the first time, are the 13th team to reach the concluding match and the tenth from Europe.
They have been taken into extra time in three consecutive games – two of which went to penalties. Only England who lost their third place match on Saturday as they did 28 years ago, have experienced the same situation, back in 1990. No team has ever contested four extra-time matches or three penalty shoot-outs in a World Cup.
Teams that qualified for the Final after playing extra time in the semi-finals have only won the Trophy twice in eight attempts. The winning sides were the then West Germany in 1990 (although the other semi-final also went to extra time and penalties) and Italy in 2006.