World Cup final preview: France v Croatia

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  • France in third-ever World Cup final
  • Les Bleus hoping to win second WC title
  • No injury concerns for either team
  • Croatia in first-ever World Cup final

France and Croatia square off in the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday as the curtain will come down on a hugely entertaining tournament.

[ MORE: Projected starting XI’s ]

Les Bleus are the favorites to prevail at Luzhniki Stadium but Croatia’s gutsy run to their first-ever final will leave Didier Deschamps and Co. wary of being upset in a final again, while Croatia look to avenge their World Cup semifinal defeat to France in 1998.

[ MORE: Key battles in WC final ]

Led by the raw power and pace of Kylian Mbappe, the destructive genius of N'Golo Kante and a suprisingly solid defensive unit, France have knocked out Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium en-route to the final.

This team isn’t considered to be as talented as their famous 1998 World Cup winning side but Deschamps has built a cohesive, robust unit which emerged from the stacked side of the knockout bracket. France haven’t set the world alight but this team is one win away from securing the title and exorcising their demons of losing to Portugal in the EURO 2016 final on home soil.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

As for Croatia, well, they just keep on fighting back and churning out results as the silky play of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have led them to this point. Three-straight victories in extra time is quite remarkable as they knocked off Denmark and Russia on penalty kicks without impressing, then beat England in extra time as they dragged themselves back into the game.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic are their chief goal threats and will no doubt provide plenty of problems for France’s defense as Modric and Rakitic battle with Paul Pogba and Kante for midfield supremacy.

In team news neither Croatia or France have serious injury concerns, as Mandzukic and Ivan Strinic are set to recover for Croatia and Blaise Matuidi fit for France after knocks in the semifinals.

Both sets of players know they are 90 minutes away from immortality in their homeland.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup final – Sunday, July 15

France v Croatia, Moscow (Luzhniki) — 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE


What they’re saying

Didier Deschamps on how World Cup win would compare to him captaining 1998 side to glory: “You have to live in your own times: I never, never, never mention my own history. Some of them were not born but saw pictures. It belongs to a lot of French people that lived through it but not the young generation. I’m here to write a new page in history, the most beautiful page. I’m not saying I’m not proud of what we did 20 years ago. Nobody will be able to erase it. But we can’t look back and see what is in the rear-view mirror.”

Zlatko Dalic on Croatia respecting France:

“There is no weakness in a team that is in the final. They are a top-drawer team with fantastic players. We’re taking it step by step. We’ve entered the final. We’re going to celebrate, to rest and then we will prepare for France. We’re facing another daunting task, but it’s going to be a fantastic match. We are ready for it. I am sure everybody will enjoy watching that match. I have huge respect for France.”


Prediction

I am certainly not underestimating Croatia but their incredible run to the final will catch up with them after three-straight periods of extra time. I expect Mbappe and Griezmann to pull their defense apart and Kante will be able to halt Modric and Rakitic. France to win 3-1.

NYCFC grabs five away goals in CONCACAF Champions League debut

CONCACAF Champions League
Photo by EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP via Getty Images
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New York City FC took a 5-3 advantage over San Carlos in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal on Thursday at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in Costa Rica.

Heber converted a second-half penalty to complete a hat trick for Ronny Deila’s side — that’s gonna take some getting used to — with Alexander Callens and Alexandru Mitrita scoring NYCFC’s fourth and fifth goals.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Jorman Aguilar, Marcos Mena,and Omar Browne scored for the Costa Rican hosts with two assists arriving via Randy Chirino.

San Carlos visits Red Bull Arena for the second leg on Wednesday.

The hosts pulled within a goal with 11 minutes to play, but Mitrita buried a rebound of a saved Maxi Moralez penalty kick.

The 28-year-old Heber scored 15 goals and three assists in just 22 appearances last season after arriving from HNK Rijeka in Croatia’s top tier.

2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame candidates announced

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Candidates for the 2020 National Soccer Hall of Fame have been announced and we’ll certainly tell you about all of the new batch of possible members, we’re also going to ask a huge question of the voters.

How is Steve Cherundolo not already in this thing?

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Last year’s class included a mere two people  — Abby Wambach and Sunil Gulati — and there hasn’t been a class of more than four since 2011.

Cherundolo made 423 career appearances for German side Hannover 96, even captaining the side for four seasons. He earned 86 caps with the United States men’s national team and was a member of three World Cup squads.

He simply has to be in the next group, as few others on the list have more deserving shouts over him (Perhaps Carlos Bocanegra and Jeff Cunningham).

Only one first-time finalist, Hope Solo, could rival Cherundolo’s record, and we wonder if the voters will look past her tumultuous off-field life and outspoken stance against the federation. Robbie Rogers will also certainly collect votes for an outstanding career which saw him become the first openly gay player in MLS.

First-time finalists (Full list of candidates)

Brad Davis
Whitney Engen
Herculez Gomez
Clarence Goodson
Hope Solo
Mike Magee
Carlos Ruiz
Nat Borchers
Conor Casey
Justin Mapp
Jamison Olave
Robbie Rogers
Jen Buczkowski
Kelly Smith

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Spurs in UCL; Man City’s response

Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap the crucial Champions League results this week focusing on Liverpool’s 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid (0:50), Tottenham falling 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig (11:45) and another impressive performance by Erling Haaland in Dortmund’s win over PSG (24:55).

The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s 2-0 victory against West Ham and share their thoughts on Pep Guardiola‘s first comments about City’s UEFA ban (27:55). The gents wrap up the pod review the Europa League results for Manchester United (42:50), Arsenal (48:00), and Wolves (51:55).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 26

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We’re nearing the time of the Premier League season where the club power rankings reach a sense of finality, with little movement as relegated sides and contenders latch onto their table footing.

It makes sense, of course, as many sides have now met each other twice, the litmus tests less important than the proof in the pudding.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Norwich City — The moral victories aren’t very rewarding anymore, the little errors causing more significant pain. Credit to Alisson for scooping up a weak pass, but this week’s pain was self-inflicted despite a very decent performance.
Last week: 20
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

19. West Ham United — David Moyes‘ men are now winless in eight since clobbering Bournemouth, and a trip to Anfield is next. And the Irons don’t even get the bonus of being rested while Liverpool played at midweek.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Man City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday at Liverpool

18. Watford — Suddenly winless in five with Manchester United and Liverpool next.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — Three draws and one loss in a four-match run that demanded at least two wins.
Last week: 18
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Watford
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

16. Crystal Palace — The Eagles have one goal through three matches since the 2-2 draw with Man City and will be hoping to break their skid versus plucky Newcastle.
Last week: 14
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle United

15. Bournemouth — A trip to Burnley demands a result given Chelsea and Liverpool follow.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

14. Aston Villa — A tricky trip to St. Mary’s before the League Cup Final; What are the chances Villa clinches Europa League but heads down to the Championship?
Last week: 17
Season high: 6
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 3-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Saints

13. Newcastle United — The Magpies were very good in the first 45 minutes at Arsenal but fell apart in the second frame. They need to start stacking a couple of wins for comfort, as Steve Bruce‘s men finish with three of five against Spurs, Man City, and Liverpool (two of whom will be looking for revenge).
Last week: 12
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 4-0 at Arsenal
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Crystal Palace

12. Southampton — What the heck happened against Burnley?
Last week: 10
Season high: 7
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

11. Burnley — The Clarets have taken 10 of 12 points, the only setback a draw with Arsenal, and are firmly in the Europa League discussion despite approaching historically bad numbers in passing.
Last week: 12
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

10. Manchester United — For one Monday, Harry Maguire was an incredibly lucky man on an incredibly fortunate team. At least Bruno Fernandes looks dynamite.
Last week: 11
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-0 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Watford

9. Wolves — Still wouldn’t want to see them on the schedule, but Wolves hopes for the Champions League are based in the UEL.
Last week: 6
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Leicester City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Norwich City

8. Arsenal — The defense appears solid under Mikel Arteta, though his old pals Everton will present the stiffest test in some time.
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 13
Last match: Won 4-0 v. Newcastle
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

7. Chelsea — Holds a 1-2-2 record in league play since Christian Pulisic was injured.
Last week: 7
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Manchester United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Spurs

6. Sheffield United — The Premier League’s Papillon.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Brighton

5. Everton — Carlo Ancelotti has the Toffees humming toward Europa League… and possibly better.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

4. Leicester City — Still on track for the top four, but haven’t looked UCL caliber in weeks.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Wolves
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Man City

3. Spurs — Losing Kane and Son will probably cost them in their chase to rejoin the UCL, but we wouldn’t rule out Jose Mourinho. Still: Chelsea, Wolves, and Manchester United are three of the next four PL opponents.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 3-2 at Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

2. Manchester City — Ban or not, they are finishing second… unless Leicester finds its very best against a UCL-obsessed City on Saturday.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Won 2-0 v. West Ham
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

1. Liverpool — Poor, poor West Ham.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 1-0 at Norwich City
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday v. West Ham