World Cup final simulation: Griezmann's brace powers France past Croatia in thrilling 'FIFA 18' sim

MOSCOW BERKELEY, Calif. -- It's raining in Moscow. 

Water dumps onto the field at Luzhniki Stadium, even though the temperature hovers near 80 degrees (Fahrenheit), as France and Croatia engage in a game of soccer that'll decide the one true king of the 2018 World Cup. It's a trial by combat in a Russian thunderstorm. As the white ball skids across the surface, leaving a trail of flickering water in its wake, a hand taps a button. The raindrops hang in midair, the ball stops mid-flight, and Olivier Giroud -- handsome as ever in France's delectable blue kits -- stands as still as a statue. 

I accept a small glass of scotch from my friend Seung, who has kindly let me borrow his living room and PlayStation 4 so that I can run a "FIFA 18" simulation of the 2018 World Cup final. I press X again. The rain resumes, the ball reaches its intended target, and Giroud possesses the ball. The World Cup final resumes.

At 11 a.m. ET on Sunday in Moscow, France and Croatia will compete for the 2018 World Cup trophy in front of an audience of billions. At 6:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday inside a PS4 situated in Berkeley, California, France and Croatia competed for a fake 2018 World Cup trophy in front of an audience of two, both of whom remained thoroughly captivated throughout the simulation. Who would've thought watching a fake soccer game would be so much fun?

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HBO

Welcome to CBS Sports' official simulation of the World Cup final between France and Croatia. It was a simulation that involved three goals, none of which were own-goals or set-piece goals, which isn't very #OnBrand for this tournament, the last of which (spoiler alert) was a late-game winner that secured France's championship. 

If you're doubting the power of a simulation, let me remind you that Will Brinson's Madden sim once predicted the Falcons would journey to the Super Bowl in 2016, my Madden sim predicted the Patriots would mount a furious comeback to beat the Falcons in that Super Bowl, and our FIFA sim before the tournament predicted Belgium would win the World Cup (in real life, Belgium lost to France in the semis, but close enough). 

Video-game simulations might not always be right, but they're sometimes in the vicinity of right. Besides, why wait until Sunday to experience a highly hyped game between a traditional European powerhouse and a country with the population of Oregon? And if you're still doubting the point of this exercise, now is probably the time to stop reading this story, unless you just want to stay for the GIF of France celebrating its game-winning goal by pretending to row a boat. 

Yes, it's as cool as it sounds. No, I still can't believe watching a video-game simulation and then writing about it is part of my job.

To make the simulation as authentic as possible, I changed the location to Luzhniki Stadium, which is where the actual game will be held. The game is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET, which translates to 6 p.m. local time. The change was made. Then, I checked the weather. A storm is coming in.

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FIFA 18

Rain: Activated. Let the game simulation begin.

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FIFA 18

Wait, that's better ...

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FIFA 18

France began by pressing and testing the Croatian backline, and it didn't take long for the first breakthrough to come courtesy of Antoine Griezmann. In the ninth minute, Kylian Mbappe played a ball across the top of the box to Griezmann, who used a beautiful first touch into space to free himself. From in close, Griezmann blasted a near-post shot past Danijel Subasic to give France a 1-0 lead.

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FIFA 18

Party time.

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FIFA 18

A few minutes later, I turned to Seung and shook my head. This was going to be a blowout, wasn't it? Which makes sense. France is the superior side. Croatia is coming off three straight games that required extra time. Croatia should get demolished, right?

Not so fast. In the 24th minute, a moment of fantastic buildup from Croatia concluded with Mario Mandzukic redirecting Luka Modric's pass into the far post. Tie game.

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FIFA 18

Just before halftime, Croatia nearly took the lead, but this time the post wasn't so kind.

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FIFA 18

At halftime, the scoreline was knotted up at 1-1 with possession tied at 50-50 and the shooting statistics in favor of Croatia, which simply couldn't hit the target.

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FIFA 18

The pace of the game slowed in the second half. It turns out, fatigue is a real thing in a fake game! While Croatia maintained its fair share of the possession, it was France that generated the majority of the chances. And in the 83rd minute, France found the winner. 

A horrific turnover just outside the box by Croatia's Ivan Rakitic got picked by Paul Pogba. After a challenge, the ball fell to Griezmann, who took his second shot of the game. Just like his first shot, his second found the back of the net.

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FIFA 18

Don't blame Subasic.

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FIFA 18

And that's how France rowed their way to the 'ship. 

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FIFA 18

France stymied Croatia's remaining attacks without incident, and the simulation ended at 2-1. As the final match facts indicate, France generated more chances in a fairly even affair.

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FIFA 18

As expected, Griezmann's brace earned him Player of the Match honors.

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FIFA 18

On the losing side, Modric walked away with Croatia's highest player rating. Alarmingly, he was the only player on Croatia to finish with a rating above 8.0.

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FIFA 18

So, there you have it. Griezmann scores two goals, Modric doesn't get quite enough help from his Croatian teammates, and France wins the World Cup. Back in reality, I turned off the console, thanked Seung for his generosity, and walked out into the California sunshine, pleased that I wasn't actually in the game

Despite EA Sports' wishes.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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