On Sunday it will be France vs Croatia squaring off to decide the World Cup champion in the biggest sporting event on the planet this year.
In a World Cup full of surprises, this final match has plenty of interesting story lines.
There will be many Pittsburgh area soccer fans who will be watching this game with great interest. Among those are members of our Pittsburgh Soccer Now team along with a few other prognosticators that include their thoughts below.
First though, earlier in the week, I had a chance to catch up with someone who just might be Croatia’s biggest supporter in Pittsburgh.
CROATIA’s BIGGEST SUPPORTER IN PITTSBURGH
It would be hard to argue that Niko Katic is Croatia’s biggest supporter here in Pittsburgh. Katic has spent a good part of the past decade in Pittsburgh as a member of the Riverhounds SC organization, first as a player, then as the team’s interim head coach in 2014, and later as both assistant coach with the first team, and now with Riverhounds Development Academy.
Earlier in the week, Katic, who was born in 1986 and grew up in a country torn by war, but eventually won its independence in the late 1990s, took a few moments to talk to me about his home country’s remarkable run in the World Cup leading up to the semifinal match vs England.
If you missed it, you can listen to it here as part of last week’s Mon Goals podcast — precisely at the 41:45 minute mark.
And by the way — what’s up with this sudden influx of prominent coaches in the Pittsburgh area either from Croatia or with strong heritage to this small Eastern European country?
First Katic, but now we also have Jay Vidovich (Pitt’s men’s coach — more from him below) and Mark Pulisic (Riverhounds assistant).
THOUGHTS & PREDICTIONS FOR THE BIG MATCH
Not only did we get the predictions from some members of our Pittsburgh Soccer Now crew, but we also got some predictions from a few other prominent figures on the Pittsburgh soccer scene…
Kevin Kerr (Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC):I’ll be watching the game with my (Croatian) friend Niko (Katic) and hopefully they will get it done, but I think it will be a comfortable win for France.
Randy Waldrum (Head coach, Pitt women’s soccer) – I’m pulling for the underdog Croatia, but I have a feeling it might be one game too many. They’ve gone into the tank one too many times. If they put all the pieces together like they have on a couple of occasions France will win it.
Jay Vidovich (Head coach, Pitt men’s soccer) – I’m Croatian so this is special. And, you always have a fondness for dark horse, the underdog. That country has about as many people as we have in the Pittsburgh area. They have place in my in heart, and I follow many of the players closely in Europe, in England, in Spain, and Champions League, and that’s always exciting. They have the players to compete. Very proud of what they’ve done. France has more talent. Even though they’ve (Croatia) played the extra game or so due to their overtimes, the emotion and stress that they’ve had in their last three matches, I am not sure you can count them out. There’s quality there. There’s a mentality that they are ready for any fight.
Mike Sparks: France over Croatia, with a score of 2-1. Thinking both teams will sit back a bit, not wanting to be exposed on defense. But France steals one late and holds on to win it.
Rachael McKriger: Croatia will hoist their first-ever World Cup title on Sunday over France. The country of a little over four million people has done the most running in this tournament — Luka Modrić has acquired 39.1 miles of running, according to Fox Sports. Tired legs don’t plague this team. I do believe that Croatia will continue the extra time trend, but the match won’t go to penalties.
Alan Saunders (Pittsburgh Sports Now) – 2-0 Croatia
Kevin Sparks (MonGoals) – France 3 – Croatia 1, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba provide a bit more balance in the midfield, while Croatia, with brilliant individual players in the midfield, are a bit 1-dimensional. The world cup of continuous surprises ends with an expected final score.
John Krysinsky – France 2-0. All along, I’ve felt like France has the talent to win it all. Now they’ve been tested by what this field has provided. Sure they didn’t face Brazil or Germany. Still, with the other traditional powerhouse nations out of contention, they’ve been the most complete team in the tournament. Heading into the final, even against a very talented Croatian side that has played extra time for three straight matches, they should take care of business. Much like against upstart Belgium, Les Bleus are peaking and playing at a high level with a group that includes the the likes of Klylian Mpappe, Kante, Pogba and Antonie Greizmann, along with Hugo Lloris in goal. Quite simply, they should be too much for Modrić and company.But then again, at this World Cup, anything is possible.
WHERE TO WATCH?
Pittsburgh soccer fans should have plenty of options to the big game if they want to abandon their living rooms. The match will kickoff around 11 a.m. EST on Sunday and plenty of places are showing the match.
Of course we’re a bit bias in this space — as the best pub to watch any soccer matches in Pittsburgh of course would be at Piper’s Pub on the South Side.
If you are going to Piper’s be sure to arrive early.
During group and knockout stage games, at times there was no where to find a place to sit as it was wall-to-wall people trying to catch the game, but also the atmosphere. Of course, many of these fans were England supporters.
If it’s too crowded inside Piper’s for your taste or to get in there, but need a quick alternative, I would suggest heading over to nearby Carmella’s Pints and Plates, as they also serve an excellent Sunday morning brunch.
There will be an abundance of sports bars, pubs and establishments around the area that will be showing the game.
One fun alternative would be Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville. The theater will be showing the match with free admission — so their usual costume discount won’t apply on Sunday, but that shouldn’t stop you from wearing your favorite soccer gear — right?
And they serve craft beer for those who prefer to watch the final with a pint (or so) in hand. The theater’s concession stand also features natural popcorn with real butter, local soft pretzels as well as vegan options). Doors open at 10:30 a.m. — and it’s going to be first-come, first serve for seating in the theater.