Mark O'Haire's World Cup Diary: Les Blues to conquer Croatia in low-scoring showpiece

8 min

The month-long festival of football in Russia is coming to a close on Sunday with the World Cup final taking centre-stage following 63 games across 33 days in Russia.

There have been highs and lows, thrills and spills, shocks and surprises and numerous talking points along the way, in what’s been labelled by many as one of the best ever World Cups in the modern era. It’s difficult to disagree.

In terms of betting and my own wallet, it’s been a rollercoaster ride. The group-stages were prosperous before a rocky patch was hit during the early knockout rounds.

Thankfully, order was restored over the past week and we can end the tournament in profit and with confidence to attack the final weekend.

There are not too many punts I’d recommend backing blindly but one of those selections arrives in the third-place play-off on Saturday. Admittedly, this is the match that nobody cares about, where squad players are given a run-out and nations play without pressure or fear before heading home.

It’s essentially a glorified friendly – a pointless fixture, sure, but it tends to be quite entertaining too. Since 1990, none of the seven encounters have ended all-square, three were won by at least a two-goal margin and the pre-match underdogs scooped the bronze medal on three occasions.

Harry Kane appears dejected after the final whistle on Wednesday night.

Belgium are understandable favourites, enjoying an extra day’s rest and avoiding any extra-time throughout the competition. Their squad is also stronger than England’s but I’ve little interest in the match result – the angle here is to back goals, and plenty of them.

Over 2.75 Goals can be supported at a very appealing 1.76. This selection would see us make a half-stakes profit should exactly three goals be scored with a full-stakes pay-out made should four or more goals be seen in Saint Petersburg.

Since 1990, the third place play-off match has averaged 4.00 goals-per-game with all nine contests featuring at least three goals. As I say, I tend to blindly punt goals in this encounter and am comfortable repeating the trick this weekend.

Of course, the main course arrives from Moscow on Sunday afternoon as France and Croatia lock horns in the capital. Les Blues are understandable 1.98 favourites having come through knockout ties against Uruguay, Argentina and Belgium, enjoying a day’s extra rest and boasting a squad littered with superstardom.

The cream tends to rise to the top in these high-profile, high-pressurised matches with only one underdog taking the title since 1990 – that was France as hosts back in 1998. Considering Croatia are the biggest priced underdogs in the World Cup final across the past 28 years, the trends are against them.

The Blazers have battled brilliantly through adversity and shown remarkable resilience to come from behind and progress through three consecutive periods of extra-time.

No nation in World Cup football has ever successfully negotiated such a path to the showpiece final and you have to concerns over fatigue.

The Balkan boys have essentially played an extra game with one day’s less recovery. If you check out the distances these players have covered in the knockout stages, there’s also a drastic difference– could the exertions of gruelling ties against Denmark, Russia and England catch up on Zlatko Dalic’s troops here? It’s possible.

Mario Mandzukic’s Extra Time winner got Croatia over the line vs England, but will three consecutive Extra Time games ultimately catch up on the Blazers?

World Cup finals tend to be tight affairs; goals are at a premium, set-pieces are key and moments of individual brilliance can often turn the tide.

One goal could well be enough and I’d back France to come out on top at the odds on offer, if only due to their extra star quality and excellent defensive shape.

Les Blues have conceded an average of 8.10 shots-per-game – faced only 4.50 shots from inside their own penalty box and 2.30 hit the target. In terms of xG from open play, France are allowing only 0.48 per-game, a quite remarkable figure considering the route they’ve undertaken to Moscow.

As well as backing France, I’m also keen to scoop up the 1.82 on Under 2 Goals. Here we’ll see our stake returned should the game produce exactly two goals with one or zero strikes returning a profit. Collectively, the pair have seen eight of their 12 World Cup matches this summer feature fewer than three goals.

As already suggested, World Cup finals tend to low-scoring affairs. Since 1990, the average goals-per-game in a final stands at just 1.14 with six falling under the 2.5 Goals line and only one seeing goals for both sides.

Tight finals aren’t just restricted to the World Cup. Take a look at the finals of the European Championships, Copa America, African Cup of Nations and World Cups this millennium and 65% of those 25 fixtures featured Under 1.5 Goals with five of the last six concluding goalless. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see a repeat.

Recommended Bets

  • Belgium v England – Over 2.75 Goals (1.77)
  • France v Croatia – France to win (1.98)
  • France v Croatia – Under 2 Goals (1.82)

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