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Paths to the final: France’s was simple, Croatia’s brutal

July 14, 2018
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France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris goes for the ball during the semifinal match between France and Belgium at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the St. Petersburg Stadium in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

MOSCOW (AP) — 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 defense and, 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.

Here’s a look at how each team made it through the six games leading up to Sunday’s final.

HOW FRANCE GOT HERE

Group C

FRANCE 2, AUSTRALIA 1 : Les Bleus need a penalty from Antoine Griezmann and a late own-goal to get by Australia, an underwhelming start in a group they are heavily favored to win.

FRANCE 1, PERU 0 : Kylian Mbappe’s easy finish in the first half makes the 19-year-old striker the youngest ever to score for France at the World Cup and secures a spot in the knockout stage.

FRANCE 0, DENMARK 0 : Both sides knock it around for 90 minutes knowing a draw means France wins the group and Denmark is second. It’s the only goalless game of the tournament.

Round of 16

FRANCE 4, ARGENTINA 3 : Mbappe dominates in a round-of-16 match that has the feel of a final as the teams trade the lead three times. The phenom scores twice and draws a penalty that Griezmann converts for a third, with a wonderful strike by Benjamin Pavard tucked in between.

Quarterfinals

FRANCE 2, URUGUAY 0 : Griezmann sets up one goal and scores another on a Uruguay goalkeeping gaffe, refusing to celebrate it because of his close club and personal ties to the South Americans.

Semifinals

FRANCE 1, BELGIUM 0 : Samuel Umtiti’s header from a corner kick proves the difference as both goalkeepers stand out in a surprisingly defensive match between arguably the most talented teams in the tournament. As it did to Uruguay, France hands Belgium its only loss and returns to the final for the third time in the past six World Cups.

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HOW CROATIA GOT HERE

Group D

CROATIA 2, NIGERIA 0 : Like France in its first match, Croatia uses a penalty kick and an own-goal to grab the lead in a group many identified as among the toughest.

CROATIA 3, ARGENTINA 0 : The Croats show they are for real by stifling Lionel Messi and routing Argentina with three second-half goals.

CROATIA 2, ICELAND 1 : Already qualified and facing an Iceland team that had to win, Croatia sends out a squad heavy with reserves and still earns its third victory with a 90th-minute goal from Ivan Perisic.

Round of 16

CROATIA 1, DENMARK 1 : A blazing start and an epic finish as Croatia gives up a goal in the first minute and answers in the fourth, then survives a historic goalkeeping duel in a shootout in which Danijel Subasic makes three saves to send his team through 3-2 on penalties.

Quarterfinals

CROATIA 2, RUSSIA 2 : Another thriller as Croatia scores in extra time but surprise quarterfinalist Russia equalizes within minutes in front of a roaring crowd in Moscow’s main stadium. An injured Subasic comes up with another save to help Croatia prevail 4-3 in the shootout.

Semifinals

CROATIA 2, ENGLAND 1 : Playing two hours of soccer for the third time in 11 days, Croatia goes down a goal early but comes back to level with a fantastic finish by Perisic and wins it with a clinical strike from Mario Mandzukic in extra time. The Croats reach their first final in their fifth World Cup.

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More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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