World Cup final: my arch says France but my affection says Croatia | Marta

Before the World Cup started I do not think I was alone in thinking that one of Brazil, Germany, Argentina or possibly France would be in the final. France have made it but I think very few would have guessed that Croatia would be their opponents.

It has been great watching Zlatko Dalic’s team this World Cup and one thing that stands out is their extreme work-rate. Croatia have some star players, of course they do, but this has been all about the team. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic are important players who play for important teams in Europe but I would argue that the reason Croatia have reached the final is that the whole team have contributed. The tireless running of Ivan Perisic on the left, for example, or of Sime Vrsaljko at right-back has contributed towards opponents never being able to rest. And we cannot forget the goalkeeper Danijel Subasic, the hero of two shootouts.

It also shows that tradition and history does not matter in the end. Russia 2018 has shown us that having a glorious World Cup past does not win you games alone. Teams such as Brazil, Argentina, England and Germany have gone out while Croatia are still there. Croatia, of course, finished third in 1998 but they have struggled at the biggest stage since then.

This summer, however, it has all come together. They have had a clear strategy – in contrast to some other teams – and that has paid off. The unity of the squad has been great to see and they have defended as a team, not as individuals. A solid defence and the knowledge that everyone helps out gives everyone a lot of confidence to go forward.

Croatia have been very aware of their opponents’ weaknesses and have targeted them throughout the tournament. Dalic has not been afraid to change or tweak in the middle of games either, something some coaches are wary of doing.

It is impossible, of course, to talk about Croatia without a special mention for Modric. He is a wonderful player who is able to do most things you need from a midfielder. He is always calm, which is impressive considering the tempo these games are being played at, and builds the team’s play without any pressure whatsoever.

We have seen him run games for Real Madrid for years now, although at the Spanish club he has often been overshadowed by others such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. But Modric has worked extremely hard to get where he is and he deserves all the praise he gets.

Talking about Modric reminds me of a great midfielder who I have played with many times in the past and who I am still fortunate enough to play with for the national team. Her name is Formiga. Her initial position is in defensive midfield but she is so talented that she is extremely good going forward too. She is also very aggressive when she ventures up the pitch, which you need to be, and she is also a very smart player.

Being a midfielder you have to combine a lot of different skills to be a complete player and, during all this time that I have played for my clubs and the national team I couldn’t think of another player that has her quality, her vision, her willingness to work hard and her positional sense when it comes to marking her opponents. She is a complete midfielder.

But, as I said from the outset, this is all about the Croatia team and their fighting spirit. After the win against England, Modric and a few others spoke about them being energised by the “arrogance” of the English media.

Being criticised is never fun but it affects different people in different ways. Croatia took this perceived criticism – namely that they were tired and would not be able to put up a fight against England – and used it to their advantage. Using criticism as a motivator can be very powerful.

You could see that every player gave everything they had out on the pitch against England, and it is not impossible that part of that energy came from some of the comments about them before the game. I know from personal experience that it can be the way because the more criticised I get, the more I want to show them that they are wrong, and the more I want to get that result. It motivates me.

I do not answer to criticism, unless it is mentioned or asked in an interview, because I look to answer on the pitch. I think criticism is part of being a successful athlete. You have to learn to live with it and use it to your advantage.

Croatia take on France – a side that have, in Kylian Mbappé, one of the stars of the tournament. He is a 19-year-old who has the vibrancy of youth and the quality of a world-class star combined with extraordinary speed. He is very hard to stop and has been making the difference for this team.

France have a young team that are only going to get better and they are my slight favourites to lift the trophy. But do you know what? I hope I am wrong because I am cheering a bit more for Croatia because they are a team that have never been to a World Cup final and, for all the work they have been putting in, they deserve to win it. It would be fantastic to have a side that have never won the World Cup lifting the trophy.