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WORLD CUP KICKOFF: A look at the World Cup's final day

NEWS
News
373   //    15 Jul 2018, 00:23 IST
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MOSCOW (AP) — Here's a look at what's coming up at the World Cup , which is down to its final day, featuring the title match Sunday in Moscow between France and Croatia.

PUTIN REAPPEARS

The Russian president has kept a fairly low profile at the World Cup considering he's more or less the man behind the tournament. Vladimir Putin attended the opening match a month ago in Moscow, a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia that kicked off a surprising quarterfinal run for the home team. That's evidently the only soccer he's seen in person, though he has hosted a handful of events involving FIFA officials in and around Red Square, including a Saturday evening concert at the Bolshoi Theater. Putin was to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Sunday ahead of the final, then attend the match at Luzhniki Stadium a short drive from the Kremlin before heading off to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Finland on Monday.

WORLD CUP-CLASS ENTERTAINMENT

If Putin is into Puerto Rican pop, he's in for a treat. The tournament's official song, "Live It Up," has showed up at World Cup stadiums about as often as Putin himself. It will be showcased Sunday when Will Smith joins singers Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi in performing it during the closing ceremony. The song is innocuous enough, but that doesn't mean some controversy couldn't crop up. Though the three avoided anything sensitive during their news conference this week, Istrefi has ruffled feathers in the past on a topic that caused problems earlier in the tournament: An ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, she upset some conservative Serbs last year when she shot a music video inside an Orthodox Church. FIFA fined several Swiss players, also ethnic Albanians, who made pro-Albania symbols with their hands in a comeback win over Serbia in the group stage.

WHO'LL TAKE HOME THE HARDWARE

England's Harry Kane has six goals to his credit, making him a near lock to win the Golden Boot , awarded to the tournament's top scorer. The awards based on judgment calls are more up in the air. Croatia midfielder Luka Modric is a good bet to be named player of the tournament if he plays well again and Croatia wins. But the Golden Ball could just as easily go to Kylian Mbappe or Antoine Griezmann if France triumphs. Best goalkeeper? Maybe the toughest call of all. The two playing Sunday — France captain Hugo Lloris and Croatian sensation Danijel Subasic — and England's Jordan Pickford all have strong cases in a tournament where several 'keepers have excelled.

OH, AND THAT OTHER TROPHY

Will France win its second World Cup, or Croatia its first? That could come down to the Croats' stamina. No team has played three extra-time matches in the same World Cup, as Croatia has done in its past three contests. Moreover, France has had one more day to prepare because its semifinal preceded Croatia's. "An extra 24 hours is a really big thing at this stage of the tournament," Belgium coach Roberto Martinez noted Saturday, allowing for what edge his side might've had in its 2-0 win over England in the third-place match.

On the other hand, Croatia has defied logic on this once already. It was faced with a fast, younger, relatively rested team in its semifinal against England, just as it is against France. After going down a goal, the Croats steadily grew stronger, controlling the game and beating opponents to the ball as if they were the ones with fresh legs, finally getting the winner in extra time. France will be favored for a lot of other good reasons , but another upset shouldn't surprise anyone who's been watching Croatia or the rest of this upset-filled World Cup.

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