The World Cup comes just once every four years — which means you don't want to miss Sunday's final in Moscow. Whether you've been following the tournament casually since the beginning, or are just jumping on the bandwagon now, here's what you need to know about the World Cup for the ages.
The tournament so far: The 2018 World Cup is being described by some as "the best World Cup ever," and it's certainly been exciting — even before it began. The United States, Italy, and the Netherlands — all staples at the tournament — failed to even qualify. And once the tournament got underway, upsets abounded. Defending champion Germany didn't even make it out of the tournament's initial group stage. Host Russia, widely viewed as the 32-team tournament's weakest team, made it all the way to the quarterfinals, even defeating Spain (another favorite to win it all) before only ultimately losing to Croatia. Brazil had the highest chance of winning the tournament, and lost to Belgium in the quarterfinals.
The final: To many fans' surprise, it's Croatia vs. France. In the semifinals, France beat Belgium, and Croatia topped England in a thriller. (England and Belgium face off Saturday at 10 a.m. ET in a third-place match.) If you want to sound smart, the Croatian national soccer team is nicknamed Vatreni (meaning "the Blazers") while France is known as Les Bleus, for its blue kits. The World Cup final starts at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday.
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What you should know about France: France won its only World Cup title in 1998, when the tournament was played in Paris. This year, after losing the Euro 2016 on home soil, the team came to Russia with something to prove. Les Bleus has certainly impressed, surviving games against Argentina, Uruguay, and Belgium. Now anything less than going home with the World Cup would be crushing. The team has the odds to do it, too, with FiveThirtyEight giving them a 59 percent chance of nabbing the trophy. If you like young, high-energy teams, France is for you.
Nineteen-year-old soccer phenom Kylian Mbappé is reason enough to express ship yourself a French kit right now. Described as "the most exciting player at the World Cup," Mbappé has Usain Bolt's speed (really) and a reputation that "frightens the life out of defenders." He is rightfully drawing comparisons to superstars like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and even Pelé.
What you should know about Croatia: If you like an incredible underdog story, get yourself some checkers by Sunday. Croatia is a country with a population comparable to the state of Oregon, and they had a mere 3 percent chance of winning when they entered the tournament. Now that chance has ballooned to an exciting 41 percent. Croatia has only been around as a team since the World Cup in 1998 (after gaining independence as a country in 1991), which coincidentally was the year France won its first World Cup. That makes it all the more remarkable that in just two decades of existence, Croatia has already made it to its first finals ever. The team hasn't had an easy time getting to the final, though — with three games going to extra time in a 10-day span, Vatreni has played a full extra match at this point. Exhaustion might catch up to them.
Keep an eye on "Croatian Wizard" Luka Modrić, the team's 32-year-old captain, who is "making his case as the best player in the world." But despite helping take his team to the final, Modrić has a complicated reputation in his home country due to his involvement in a national soccer corruption scandal, in which he allegedly committed perjury to defend Zdravko Mamic, the disgraced former president of the Croatian Football Federation who was convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion (he fled the country, rather than serve his six-and-half year sentence). Still, that does nothing to tarnish the cold, hard facts of Modrić's talent, which speaks for itself.
How you can watch: The World Cup final begins at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday. You can watch on Fox Sports and Telemundo, or stream via several online services including YouTube TV and Hulu.
If you're still not sold, here's why you should care: There is never a better time to bandwagon than during the World Cup final, when no one will blame you for going all in on a team that is not traditionally your own. And while the Super Bowl still outperforms the World Cup in the United States, soccer's biggest game typically reaches more than a billion people worldwide — that is nearly one in every seven people on the planet. Being a part of something that big can be amazing. "Part of the point of watching a World Cup is that almost everyone else is watching too," write Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in Soccernomics.
Hey, at the very least, it'll give you something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday.
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