MOSCOW (Reuters) - France have been surprised by the physical fortitude of Croatia and are not expecting a tired opponent in Sunday’s World Cup final, midfielder Blaise Matuidi said on Friday.
Croatia have been forced into extra time in each of their three knockout matches, edging Denmark and hosts Russia on post-match penalties before scoring late in added play to come from behind and beat England in Wednesday’s semi-final in Moscow.
France by contrast have won all of their matches since the round of 16 inside 90 minutes, effectively playing a full match less than Croatia at the tournament in Russia.
But Matuidi said he did not think the Croats would be fatigued by their added time on the pitch over the last week.
“I don’t think it’s a factor,” he said at news conference at the French training base on the outskirts of Moscow.
“We saw in the last game that they finished the stronger of the two teams. They did not look like a side who were playing extra time for a third time in a row. Surprisingly, they looked like they were playing their first game.
“They are a team playing in the World Cup final, a team with players who have a lot of experience. It will be a match they will be ready for and I don’t think extra time or penalties has been or will be a handicap for them.”
The 31-year-old, who said it would be his last World Cup, predicted an exciting final with a high level of expertise.
“They are a team who defend well and attack well after recovering the ball. We are up against players of a high quality and with lots of experience,” Matuidi said.
“It is going to be important to concentrate hard because they have tremendous qualities.”
But it was much the same with the French team too, he added.
“It’s the game of our lives to play in a World Cup final, a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. The cup feels so close we can almost touch it but there is still a lot to do to get there,” he said.
“We’ve prepared everything to win the game even if its extra time or penalties. It’s the winning that counts.”
Editing by Christian Radnedge