It's hard to believe France trudged to a nervy win over Australia 29 days ago.
Didier Deschamps' side did not resemble an all-conquering force after that opening Group C encounter in June. The manner of victory in Kazan certainly did not live up to the pre-tournament hype that regarded Les Bleus among the top contenders.
Nor was it a performance that offered a platform from which to mount a credible claim for world football's biggest prize.
However, France have slowly become the standout performers in Russia since that unspectacular triumph over the Caltex Socceroos. Tonight they're overwhelming favourites to clinch the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ trophy.
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Although Les Bleus have offered formula one football on occasion through 19-year-old superstar Kylian Mbappe, Deschamps' side has barely had to move from second gear.
France may be symbolised by their wildly talented artillery in the middle and front thirds, but it is arguably the manager’s methodical, safety-first stance that has enabled the side to maraud relentlessly to the final.
Deschamps' approach has drawn a share of criticism. Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois lambasted France's 'anti-football' following their knockout blow at the hands of Les Bleus last week.
But the 1998 winners won’t care. Germany, Spain and Brazil among others have all fallen short this tournament harbouring a more enterprising style.
In contrast, Deschamps' side have only trailed for nine minutes throughout the entire competition. The former midfielder is in line to become the third man to claim the FIFA World Cup™ as a player and coach after Germany's Franz Beckenbauer and Brazil's Mario Zagallo.
France's tournament exploits could be influenced by the manner of their Euro 2016 defeat. Les Bleus were overwhelming favourites to take out the European Championship heading into the final against Portugal but a complacent performance resulted in heart ache on home soil.
There are some parallels to be drawn as they prepare for another underdog tonight in Croatia, who are playing in their first ever 2018 FIFA World Cup™ final.
The Balkan nation are the smallest country to feature at the final in 68 years.
Zlatko Dalić's side shone in the group stages but their run in the knockout stage has been underpinned by doggedness. The tournament dark horses have played the equivalent of four full matches in under two weeks after emerging victorious in penalty shoot outs over Denmark and Russia and an extra time win over England.
Tonight's outsiders have had to come from behind in all three knockout fixtures played. Clearly, they are a side who do not know when they are beaten regardless of opposition and is a sentiment echoed by Dalić in prior to the match.
“We do not mind who is the other side of the pitch,” he told media.
“We are here to enjoy ourselves and, whatever happens, we are going to be happy and proud. I want to send this message to my players: enjoy the final, the whole world is watching – go out and play your best football, don’t be cramped, don’t be restricted, don’t let anything affect you.
"This is the greatest moment in all our lives.”
2018 FIFA World Cup™ Final
France v Croatia, Luzhniki Stadium - Monday 16 July 1.00AM (AEST) kick off.
COVERAGE: You can watch the game LIVE in Australia on SBS and Optus Sport, with coverage starting from 11pm AEST.
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