France and Croatia first crossed swords and, ultimately, destinies some 20 years ago at World Cup 1998.
It was Croatia’s first World Cup since obtaining independence and they swiftly became one of the stories of the tournament, as a small country still coping with the aftermath of a war dared to dream big.
However, stars ultimately aligned for hosts France, who went on to lift their first World Cup after beating Croatia 2-1 in the semi-finals.
Below, we look back at the main protagonists of both sides and pick an all-star team from 1998.
GK Drazen Ladic
Fabien Barthez’s iconic pate is one of the abiding memories of 1998, but the brilliance of Ladic shouldn’t be forgotten.
Already 35 in France, he made a crucial one-on-one stop against Japan’s Masashi Nakayama in the group stages to ensure progression. That was topped by his display against Oliver Bierhoff in the quarters, as Croatia ransacked Germany 3-0.
RB Lilian Thuram
If you’re going to score just twice for your country, you may as well save them for the big occasion. The right-back of 142 caps rescued France in that semi against Croatia, including an audacious long-range strike with his weaker left foot.
The then Parma defender also married physical prowess with intelligence on both the attack and in defence. A generational player.
CB Marcel Desailly
Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti will join Desailly in French folklore should they get Les Bleus over the line on Sunday.
Both have a little way to go before being spoken in the same reverential tones as the former AC Milan and Chelsea star, a leader of men who read the game so well that he was equally adept in defensive midfield. But he wasn’t flawless – being sent off in the final for a silly lunge on Cafu 20 minutes from time.
CB Slaven Bilic
Bilic is infamous for the playacting that led to Laurent Blanc’s dismissal and subsequent absence from the final.
He is also incredibly unlucky to miss out on selection here, but Bilic personified Croatia’s underdog spirit as the growling, snapping enforcer of a defence that had conceded just two goals before coming up against France.
LB Robert Jarni
Jarni was the type of raiding wing-back that is so in vogue at present. A wonderful crosser of the ball with pace to boot, he set up Robert Prosinecki as Croatia drew first blood in their eventual 2-1 victory over Netherlands in the third-place play-off.
Much like Thuram, his only goal at international level was a belter – flashing a thunderous left-footed shot past Andreas Kopke to kick-start the sensational quarter-final win against Germany.
DM Didier Deschamps
Deschamps is on the brink of becoming just the third man to win the World Cup as both player and manager, and in 1998, he was no less than the captain.
Eric Cantona nicknamed him the ‘water-carrier’. It was intended as a slight, but Deschamps was as effective as the Hoover Dam in blocking off attacks and funnelling the ball to his glitzier counterparts.
CM Emmanuel Petit
Aljosa Asanovic, who so delicately assisted Suker for Croatia’s opener against France, could have been the pick here but you can’t leave out a man who was so integral in the final.
The former Arsenal star was a jack-of-all-trades midfielder but was treated like royalty at home for his endeavours in 1998, delivering the corner for one of Zidane’s goals before he rounded off the last-minute counter in the 3-0 finale against Brazil.
CM Zvonimir Boban
Boban was the heartbeat in 1998 just as Luka Modric is to Croatia’s current crop, though where the Real Madrid star is coolness personified, his predecessor was a living, breathing firecracker. The fiery Vatreni skipper wrote the manual for midfield play in big, angry letters.
Cruelly it was his mistake that saw France equalise in the semi-final though, in his defence, he had sustained an early injury.
AM Zinedine Zidane
No one quite has a sense of timing like Zidane. Earlier this summer he stepped down at Real Madrid after winning a hat-trick of Champions League titles. In 1998, he rescued a personally non-descript World Cup that had seen him sent off in the group stages with two headed goals in the final.
A gigantic image of Zidane was projected on the Arc de Triomphe after the game, though things didn’t work out quite so well eight years later …
ST Thierry Henry
There’s a place reserved for the Arsenal legend, though his inclusion is not quite the shoo-in it seems.
Henry, the Kylian Mbappe of that time at 20-years old, scored three times in the group stages but lost his starting place for the knockouts as coach Aime Jacquet became more pragmatic.
His displays were a huge teaser of what was to come – for both club and country.
ST Davor Suker
At his peak, Suker made scoring at international look almost impossibly easy. When Croatia scored, Suker scored, netting six goals in seven matches and claiming the Golden Boot in the process.
The left-footed spearhead was not just a finisher but a creator too, harrying the opposition to the point of submission and drawing so many fouls for his troubles.
Croatia superstar Luka Modric is one of the greatest players in the world, using his vision and nimble footwork to dissect opposition defence’s with ease.
The 32-year-old is the alpha male when it comes to racking up most minutes of any player in the World Cup with a lung busting 604 minutes across the six matches.
The Real Madrid man has amassed 41 more minutes than the next player in the tournament, centre back Dejan Lovren with 561 minutes. The 29-year-old, like his team-mate, has played every minute of action apart from restricted game time during the facile 2-1 win over Iceland.
Of course, given Croatia have played three matches that have gone to extra-time, each of their players will have recorded more minutes than their World Cup final opponents France.
But the interesting statistic with Didier Deschamps’ side is, of his back four, each has played the full 90 minutes in five of the six matches, showing a solid and reliable presence at the rearguard.
For Les Bleus, Raphael Varane and N’Golo Kante top the minutes list with 540 from the six games, with Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez playing the third-most minutes on 499.
And ahead of Sunday’s final, here’s a look at the minutes racked up by both sets of squads.
Luka Modric – 604
Dejan Lovren – 561
Ivan Rakitic – 548
Ivan Perisic – 542
Danijel Subasic – 540
Domagoj Vida – 540
Mario Mandzukic – 519
Sime Vrsaljko – 517
Ante Rebic – 476
Ivan Strinic – 430
Marcelo Brozovic – 369
Andrej Kramaric – 313
Josip Pivaric – 200
Mateo Kovacic – 183
Vedran Corluka – 119
Milan Badelj – 103
Tin Jedvaj – 90
Lovre Kalinic – 90
Duje Caleta-Car – 90
Marko Pjaca – 73
Filip Bradaric – 25
Dominik Livakovic – 0
Raphael Varane – 540
N’Golo Kante – 540
Lucas Hernandez – 500
Antoine Griezmann – 481
Olivier Giroud – 465
Hugo Lloris – 450
Benjamin Pavard – 450
Samuel Umtiti – 450
Paul Pogba – 449
Kylian Mbappe – 444
Blaise Matuidi – 263
Corentin Tolisso – 178
Ousmane Dembele – 165
Steven N’Zonzi – 106
Steve Mandanda – 90
Djibril Sidibe – 90
Presnel Kimpembe – 90
Thomas Lemar – 90
Nabil Fekir – 60
Benjamin Mendy – 40
Florian Thauvin – 1
Adil Rami – 0
Alphonse Areola – 0
The England captain tops the tournament scoring charts with six goals, two ahead of Lukaku, and the pair are likely to go head to head in Saturday’s third-place play-off in Saint Petersburg.
That is likely to provide one of the sub-plots in a fixture neither side wanted to be playing, but Martinez insists taking a podium place is more important than personal accolades.
“Romelu is here to help the team perform, not for individual awards,” said the Spaniard, who was celebrating his 45th birthday.
“We don’t look at that sort of reward and Romelu is the first to show that with his play. We had a moment against Japan where Romelu has the ball in the box, the last second of the game.
“Any striker that thinks he has 50 per cent chance of a goal takes that, but he made one of the best assists in the tournament.
“Other awards are more interesting to us. To be able to finish third, the best finish for the Belgian national team, would be an achievement we salute more than individual awards.”
Martinez has history with the striker, first coaching him as a teenager with Everton, and has marvelled at the player he has become.
“If you ask me ‘is he the best in the world?’, yes,” he said.
“But I am biased. I worked first with him when he was 19 and I’ve seen an incredible, incredible journey in his career.
“His numbers throughout his career are very difficult (to achieve). His biggest attribute is he is a goalscorer and a finisher.”
Martinez led his side to victory over England when the teams met in the group stage but has noted the positive changes in a country where he spent the majority of his playing and coaching career.
⚽️ Last training in #Russia ✔🇷🇺😊
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) July 13, 2018
“It’s fair to say English football has had a real feeling of being able to achieve now,” he said.
“St George’s Park has brought that, it is a place of debate, a tactical floor, a place for sharing ideas. With the success of their under-17s and under-20s you could easily see English football at international level has been changing these last few seasons.”
Martinez was invited by a Belgian journalist to guarantee he would still be with the side in two years’ time.
He responded: “No, I can’t. In this business lose two games and you want to get me out. How can I guarantee that?”
Provided by Press Association Sport