France vs. Croatia, while not the final most expected, is a matchup worthy of the occasion. Sunday will see several of world football's biggest stars lining up on opposite sides, but who comes out on top of theScore's rankings of all 22 likely starters?
It's Strinic who holds the unfortunate distinction of being the lowest-ranked player here, although, given the quality of the 22 players on show, that is not as damning as it sounds. The new AC Milan signing has been a solid if unspectacular performer at left-back.
Hernandez is the pitbull of this France side, getting under the skin of opponents with a little nudge and snarl. He's not as adventurous as Benjamin Mendy - who has yet to fully recover from knee surgery - but he's tracked down ball carriers and played at a high tempo.
Subasic, a vastly experienced goalkeeper, has been largely dependable for his nation in Russia. His biggest contributions have come in penalty shootouts - he saved three in the last-16 win over Denmark and another in the quarter-final victory over Russia. Should Sunday's final go the distance, he will fancy himself as a hero once again.
Besiktas defender Vida has become a widely recognisable figure over the last four weeks for his no-nonsense approach and blond ponytail. However, the biggest headline he has made has been off the pitch, when he was disciplined for a pro-Ukraine video message after his country knocked out host nation Russia.
A Champions League finalist in May, a World Cup finalist in July. It's been a decent end to the season for Liverpool centre-back Lovren. His displays in Russia have largely been impressive, too, although maybe not quite to the extent of supporting his claim of being "one of the best defenders in the world."
Didier Deschamps's decision to play Pavard out of position has paid off. A centre-back by trade, the 22-year-old has acquitted himself well at right-back and shown greater discipline than teammate Djibril Sidibe. His perfectly executed volley against Argentina remains one of the goals of the tournament.
Another revelation in the Croatia team, Rebic was snapped up permanently by Eintracht Frankfurt for a reported fee of just £1.8 million before the tournament kicked off in a move that now looks an absolute steal. His opportunistic volley against Argentina showed his predatory instincts, and his industrious style makes him a popular player for coaches and fans alike.
Not for a lack of trying, Giroud has failed to hit the target at the 2018 World Cup. Nine of his 13 shots have gone wide, with the other four blocked. Despite his struggles in front of goal, Giroud has made himself useful elsewhere on the pitch. He's contributed in the defensive third, and his hold-up play has created time and space for Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.
Something of an invisible man in Croatia's midfield behind the more illustrious Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Brozovic has been quietly impressive for his country when called upon. Brought back into the starting XI for the England clash, he played a key role in his side winning the midfield battle and gaining the momentum after half-time.
A goalkeeper who's prone to error, Lloris has improved his reputation in Russia with a series of spectacular diving saves. He's intervened at crucial junctures of the World Cup, most notably in the round of 16 against Uruguay and the semi-finals versus Belgium.
To the bemusement of wide-eyed supporters, Deschamps asked Matuidi to play as a left winger early in the group stage. And after some initial glitches, it worked. Matuidi has worked tirelessly, dropping deeper in midfield to help N'Golo Kante and Paul Pogba. He won six tackles against Belgium - more than anyone else on the pitch.
Often cited as an example of a striker who manages to be both top-class and underrated by many, Mandzukic is proving yet again he's a big-game player. Not blessed with the obvious grace of a Modric or the explosive traits of a Kylian Mbappe, the 32-year-old is nevertheless a prolific, seasoned goal-scorer so adept at picking his moments to materialise in a half-yard of space in the penalty area. A brilliant anticipatory run and a smart left-footed finish in the 109th minute on Wednesday was all it took to kill off England in an instant.
A contender for right-back of the tournament, Vrsaljko has been a model of consistency on the right flank for Croatia, offering an invaluable blend of accomplished defensive instincts, breathless runs down the line, and wicked delivery. His assist for Ivan Perisic's equaliser in the semi-final was the perfect example of his attacking talents.
Rakitic is a world-class player and has shown it in Russia, but the Barcelona star has ended up overshadowed on occasion by his midfield teammates. Even so, he oozes class, and his slightly subdued semi-final performance is perhaps best explained in his own words: "Last night, I had a fever, almost 39 (degrees). I was lying in bed finding the strength to play, and it was worth it."
Umtiti has impressed in more ways than one. Besides his goal against Belgium, the 24-year-old has shimmied his way out of trouble on numerous occasions and kicked off plays from the back. He's keen to step up and intervene and is willing and able to make adventurous passes. His confidence has been on full display in Russia.
Perisic is similar to Mandzukic in the uneven nature of his contributions. Liable to drift through games at times, he had been largely silent against England until his decisive impact, getting himself in the right place at the right time to turn home Vrsaljko's cross for the equaliser. He nearly won the game himself, too, with his trademark move, but his stepover to work space on his left foot only resulted in a shot cannoning back off the post. He'd eventually head the ball through to Mandzukic for the game-winner.
Griezmann is the prototypical all-action forward, just as capable of pressing and passing as he is scoring. He's happy to track back and start moves from deeper positions. Seconds later, he can be seen up the pitch on the attack. That tirelessness has helped France see out important one-goal victories in Russia.
Varane is a colossus in the centre of defence. Few can project his sense of calm for both club and country. He clears the lines with efficiency and regularity, and marshals the backline with clarity. Varane is built in the image of the modern-day defender, showing poise on and off the ball while posing a challenge in the air to the most daunting strikers.
The criticism has ground to a halt. Pogba has shut the mouths of his naysayers with a sestet of responsible outings at the World Cup. He possesses the range of passing to unleash the counter-attack and the awareness to dispossess ball-carriers. Deschamps has coaxed some disciplined performances from Pogba.
Mbappe is the complete package. He's put his blistering speed to use, leaving defenders in his wake while drawing fouls in advantageous positions. Mbappe isn't afraid to run right at defenders and take space. If he wasn't a household name before the tournament, he has surely become one now.
No one in football has Kante's engine. He's able to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, giving his defence an added sense of security. He's made the second most interceptions at the World Cup and helped France become a difficult team to break down.
Croatia's crown jewel, and a player for whom the acclaim keeps on rising, Modric has been nothing short of phenomenal in this tournament. His technique, passing ability, and vision are well-documented, but perhaps what has been most impressive in Russia is his ability to run on empty, partaking in three consecutive 120-minute marathon matches. There seems to be no limit to his energy or his abilities.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)