France and Croatia started their paths to the World Cup final similarly, needing a little help from their foes and officials to get their first wins. Both have benefited from great goalkeeping along the way. And both racked up goals against Argentina to help send the two-time champions home. From there, the teams’ routes to soccer’s biggest stage diverged greatly.
France, which won its qualifying group to come into the tournament as a top-seeded team , fielded a ferocious defenseand, when needed, a scintillating offense in securing all of its World Cup wins in regulation. Croatia eked into the field as one of the last European teams to qualify , then ripped through its group before surviving an unprecedented run of three straight extra-time matches.
The French are favorites to win the World Cup when they take on the Croatians at Luzhniki stadium but Deschamps is well aware they were also fancied to beat Portugal in the Euro 2016 final, which they lost.
Deschamps revealed he had come up with a variation on the industry model for success — company, customers and competitors — to help his players deal with the pressures of playing such a big game.
“It’s a huge pleasure and privilege to play in such a match, there’s nothing more beautiful as a professional football player than to play in the World Cup final,” he told reporters on Saturday.
We have prepared them as best we can. We must stay calm, we must have confidence and we must concentrate — these are the three words we’ve have been focusing on to get them ready for the final.”
Deschamps said France were a very different team than the one that lost to Portugal in Paris two years ago, which inevitably meant they lacked something in experience compared to the Croatians.
“The 14 players I have integrated since the Euro final, they have only learned what playing a big tournament is all about here in Russia, so of course the experience is less but the quality is there,” he added.
“Croatia has players with great club experience and their squad has been together for a long time but every team we’ve faced here has been more experienced.”
Still, he thought, the nine players who were in the squad at Euro 2016 would ensure the French team for Sunday would learn lessons from the experience of that final, if only to pass on how it felt to lose such a big match.
Deschamps captained France to victory in their first World Cup final in 1998 and on Sunday could join Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer as the only men to have won the World Cup as both a player and a coach.
Taking part in a big final on the pitch and watching from the sidelines were two very different experiences, he said.
“When you are player, you are an actor but as a coach you are working through the players. I am at the service of my players but the match belongs to them,” he said.
“Being a player you expend physical energy, but when you are a coach it’s more psychological and you have a different kind of fatigue.”
France were accused of being over-confident in the 2016 final having beaten world champions Germany in the semi-final and Deschamps said everybody in the French camp was aware that matches could be won and lost by factors out of their control.
“There is no euphoria here, we are all satisfied because we have reached this point, and this is the biggest game of the year,” he said.
“But beyond that, the result will show whether we have got it right. Every coach knows that such matches can be won on tiny details, and sometimes the most irrational things.