France favoured in World Cup Final

World Cup odds (As of June 29):

Croatia: 4.40
Draw: 3.25
France: 1.90

We were so close to Hank the Raccoon correctly predicting an England-versus-France World Cup Final. Alas, the underdog side from Croatia put an end to that bid with their stunning 2-1 victory over England in extra time of Wednesday's semifinal.

Croatia is off to the World Cup Final for the first time in its history.

Croatia, which entered the tournament with odds of 30.00 to win the World Cup, will now play France for the championship.

It's likely that nobody saw this coming at the beginning of the tournament, which has been just full of surprises, with a big favourite, Germany, getting bounced in the group stage and other teams with high expectations falling in the Round of 16 and then the quarter-finals. The odds of a Croatia-France finale were 70.00 prior to the beginning of the tournament.

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France entered the tournament among the favourites to win it all, although they were slightly overshadowed at the time by the likes of Brazil, Germany and Spain - all of which have since been eliminated, of course. Packed with a core of young and highly talented players, France made it through the group stage with seven of a possible nine points and has continued to gain power through the knockout rounds.

At the centre of their rise to success has been 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, who is tied with teammate Antoine Griezmann with three goals each in the tournament. Despite his age, Mbappe's star has been shining bright in Russia and he has emerged as the betting favourite to capture the Golden Ball Award as the best player in the competition. That would be an amazing accomplishment.

Now, 20 years after their last World Cup title, France has a prime opportunity to win it all again. This squad enters Sunday's concluding match as the favourite. It would not, however, be wise to count out Croatia.

This is a team that had its way in the group stage, going 3-0-0. They had a goal differential of plus-six. In their three matches of the knockout stage, Croatia has gone beyond the 90 minutes of play and needed to triumph on penalties on two of three occasions to advance to the next round. Against England, they were down early but stormed back in the second half before eventually stunning Gareth Southgate's bunch in extra time.

There has been nothing easy about how Croatia has reached the decisive game. And maybe all the extra time needed to earn a result will finally wear them down in the final. But their matches in the knockout stage have provided unimaginable levels of drama, and they have found ways to prevail despite such angst. If they can keep it close on Sunday, that may give them some added confidence as the match continues.

Croatia may not have quite the same talent level as France does. Yet, in a one-game winner-take-all match-up on the world's grandest sports stage, could this tenacious Croatian side give itself a chance to perhaps steal one away from the favourites?

They have defied the odds so far.

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