World Cup Final - France v Belgium: National pride drives on Moscow rivals

Antoine Griezmann has hit back at criticism of France playing 'anti-football' under Didier Deschamps and insists it does not matter how Les Bleus go about trying to beat Croatia in the World Cup final tomorrow.

FINAL COUNTDOWN: France's Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Ngolo Kante take a breather during a training session. Picture: AP/David Vincent)
FINAL COUNTDOWN: France's Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Ngolo Kante take a breather during a training session. Picture: AP/David Vincent)

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and captain Eden Hazard both lamented the way France approached their semi-final in St Petersburg.

A second-half header from Samuel Umtiti proved enough for a 1-0 win, despite Deschamps’s side conceding large amounts of possession to their European rivals.

Atletico Madrid forward Griezmann, however, maintains France will do whatever it takes to lift the World Cup for a second time in Moscow.

“Thibaut Courtois, he played at Atletico, he was a Spanish champion. With Chelsea, does he believe he is playing the football of Barcelona?” Griezmann said yesterday.

“I don’t care how. I want a second star to be on this shirt, and if I have the star, I do not care about the game we have done.”

Griezmann believes France’s progress has been built on a collective team effort throughout the group.

“We thought we needed to be a solid block, hard to beat. It has improved over time,” the 27-year-old said.

PROUD: Croatia's Ivan Rakitic (left) battles with England's John Stones in Wednesday's semi-final at the Luzhniki Stadium. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

“We know that we can be offensive at any moment, but the defence remains our base.”

Croatia needed extra time in each of their knockout matches, coming through 2-1 in their semi-final against England on Wednesday night.

Griezmann expects coach Deschamps, who won the World Cup as captain in 1998, to be ready for the challenge ahead at the Luzhniki Stadium.

“He knows the way. We believe in him, we trust him,” the forward said.

“He prepares the matches well and has made strong choices in this competition, especially with Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.

“His choices are paying off, and I hope it will continue.”

France could be set for a weekend of celebration, with tomorrow’s final following on from the July 14 Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees.

A massive fan-zone around the Parc du Champ de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower, will show the Croatia match on giant screens, as an expectant nation seeks a repeat of their triumph on home soil 20 years ago.

Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi should be involved after being forced off against Belgium following a heavy collision with Hazard.

Matuidi, 31, reckons victory – should France achieve it – should be dedicated to the whole nation.

“The diversity that we have in this team is in the image of our beautiful country, France. We proudly represent France. For us, that’s superb,” he said.

“The good atmosphere prevailing in the group is reflected on the field. We fight for each other –it’s our great strength. We want to make efforts for others and this has brought us to play in the final.

“Even those who play less are happy for others. This is the state of mind of a family that flows in the team.”

Ivan Rakitic says he would gladly sacrifice the rest of his football career to win the World Cup for Croatia.

Barcelona midfielder Rakitic has played an integral role in his country’s unexpected march to tomorrow’s final.

The 30-year-old believes there is a special unity within Zlatko Dalic’s squad, which extends throughout his proud nation of just 4.5million people.

“I would definitely leave my football boots behind on Monday if that was the price I had to pay to win for my country, to win for Croatia,” said Rakitic.

“You need only to look at the footage from Croatia to see what’s been going on over the past month – the joy felt by the people there; joy, togetherness, unity, pride.

“I think all of us deserve this. It doesn’t just concern the 23 players, coaching staff and backroom staff, but the 4.5million people back home.

“If there was a stadium big enough for 4.5million people, it would be full.

“I’m not trying to say these feelings are superior to the ones the French have for France or Russians have for Russia. We have this special bond. When you put the sacred Croatia shirt on you become another person. We have this togetherness, this unique unity – not just in football.”

Rakitic has played almost 70 games this season for club and country, including Wednesday’s semi-final win over England which has set up a rematch of the 1998 semi-final in Paris.

Rakitic expects neutrals across the world to back his nation come kick-off.

“I have this feeling there will be hundreds of millions of people rooting for us,” he said.

“I have received messages from Argentina, Spain, Germany, from all corners of the world. This makes me happy.

“People tell me they could never imagine celebrating a goal as if it were scored by their own country.

“This means we’ve reached hearts throughout the world.”