After nearly a month of exciting football in Russia, we finally know who will be playing in the (Men’s) World Cup Final on Sunday. France, the hosts of next year’s Women’s World Cup, are hoping to repeat their 1998 success and join Argentina and Uruguay with two World Cup trophies. But while some people had Croatia as a dark horse in the tournament, very few saw them making it all the way to the Final. While France has won all of their matches without extra time or penalties, Croatia has gone to extra time or penalties for their last three matches. France are the favorites to win, but as Croatia has proven, anything can happen on game day.
France and Croatia have beaten some of the best men’s sides in the world to get here. Some will call them the best soccer nations in the world. But what about their women’s teams? France offers a solid women’s side that always finds a way to the top international tournaments. But Croatia’s roster have faced more struggles. Here is a full breakdown of both sides:
FIFA Ranking: 3rd
Head Coach: Corinne Diacre
Captain: Amadine Henry
Key Players: Wendie Renard (Lyon, FRA), Eugenie Le Sommer (Lyon, FRA), Amandine Henry (Lyon, FRA)
History: France has had an active national team since 1975. They qualified for their first World Cup in 2003, but didn’t really start to emerge as one of the best teams in the world until Bruno Bini took over as head coach. When Bini took over, France had a lot of young stars that would lead them to success in the coming years. In 2009, they made it to the quarterfinals of the Euros before losing to the Netherlands on penalties. In 2011, they qualified for the World Cup again and made a run to the semi-finals. They continued that success over the next four years and entered the 2015 World Cup as contenders for the championship. But they faced a daunting quarterfinal matchup against Germany. After 120 minutes played, France lost on penalties.
Where They Are Now: France is hosting the Women’s World Cup next summer, which means they have automatically qualified for the tournament. And while some think the hosts will make a run for the title, the team has a lot to work out before they can beat the best in the world. Many of their players play for Lyon, which is arguably the best team in the world. That may sound like a benefit, but the lack of competition within France means much of the French roster is being pushed to get better. In addition, the international retirement of players like Louisa Necib, Camile Abily, and Elodie Thomis has France looking for young talent. They certainly could benefit from finding their own Kylian Mbappe.
FIFA Ranking: 53rd
Head Coach: Bozidar Miletic
Captain: Iva Landeka
Key Players: Iva Landeka (Rosengard, SWE), Sandra Zigic (Jena, GER), Maja Joscak (Osijek, CRO)
History: Croatia played their first international match in October of 1993 against Slovenia. In their 25 years, they have fluctuated between 44th and 65th in the FIFA Rankings. They became eligible for the Euro’s in 1995, but have never qualified. They did not enter the qualifiers for the 1995 or 1999 Women’s World Cups, but started playing qualifiers for the 2003 tournament. They have never qualified. Their most capped player—Sandra Zigic—has 58 caps and is still playing. In fact, of the top five most-capped players, four are still active for the national team.
Where They Are Now: Currently, Croatia’s focus is trying to qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. They are in a group with Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine, and Hungary, but unfortunately, they have not had much luck so far. They are at the bottom of the group, with only two points in seven matches. It seems unlikely that they will qualify for this tournament and there aren’t a lot of signs of growth from the squad. They have yet to win a match in qualifiers, earning draws only against Hungary and Ukraine. Still, Croatia’s team has remained active and has a lot of young talent that could potentially develop into something. Only time will tell.
So, are these two teams really the best soccer nations? With France, there is a strong argument. In addition to their success on the men’s side, their women’s team is ranked No. 3 in the world. They are hosting the next Women’s World Cup, and they are contenders to win that tournament. Even though France could and should be doing more to shrink the gap between the men’s and women’s teams, both of their national programs are widely respected around the world. But with Croatia, the argument is a lot harder. Despite obvious success on the men’s side, their women’s team has failed to even qualify for a major international tournament. Their federation is comparably young. Perhaps Croatia could use some of that prize money from the men’s tournament to invest in the women’s game as well. But as long as half the population remains virtually unrepresented, I don’t think you can call Croatia the best soccer nation in the world. Their run in the Men’s World Cup has been incredible. It’s time we see that success on the women’s side as well.