MOSCOW — Halftime at the 1998 World Cup final, France is 2-0 up against Brazil. In the locker room Zinedine Zidane is flat on his back on the floor, legs raised on a bench, catching his breath after scoring both goals. Other players are getting thigh massages. But Didier Deschamps, the captain and a relentless bundle of energy, is bending Les Bleus’ ears, exhorting his teammates to keep up the pressure in the second half.

“Guys, we are not going to relax one millimeter!” Deschamps yelled. “We’ve done the hard part. But there’s still another 45 minutes of madness!”

Twenty years later, almost to the day, Deschamps again will bark orders Sunday at a World Cup final, this time as France’s coach. A victory over Croatia would be a crowning achievement for the 49-year-old natural leader who could join Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer of Germany as only the third person to win the World Cup as a player and coach.

A title also would be a button-it rebuttal to critics who argue Deschamps is more of a lucky coach than a skilled one. That school of thought says any half-decent tactician could have done as well or better with France’s deep pool of talent that includes some of football’s most expensive players, headlined by Paris Saint-Germain’s electrifying teenager, Kylian Mbappe. Certainly anything short of a semifinal would have been viewed as disappointing for France’s soccer production line that finished runner-up to Portugal two years ago at the European Championship and lost to Germany, the eventual champ, in a 2014 World Cup quarterfinal.

But as great French chefs know, it takes more than just tip-top ingredients to make a winning recipe. Deschamps’ skill has been to get players who are stars at Europe’s biggest clubs to bury their egos and pull as a unit behind his guiding, almost socialist, philosophy that everyone is equal on the team or, as he puts it, the “collective.”

He left behind hugely talented individuals – Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema, Paris-St. Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot, to name two – in picking 23 players who have bonded remarkably and seemingly unselfishly during the seven weeks since they came together as a World Cup squad.

“The ability to live together, the social side, is very important,” Deschamps said. “You always need to strike the right balance. You don’t want too much individualism, too much quality. The collective spirit has to trump everything. You need to find a good blend of experienced players, leaders who have been through things, and the youngsters. There aren’t only negative sides in youth. They have that quality of enthusiasm. They’re a bit insouciant at times.”

Clearly, Deschamps got the blend right. Labored victories against Australia and Peru, and a goalless draw with Denmark in the group stage were followed by an exuberant, confidence-building 4-3 elimination of Argentina that showcased the speed and skills of Mbappe. Then came impressive defensive displays against Uruguay (2-0) in the quarterfinals and Belgium (1-0) in the semis.

Although ranging in age from the 19-year-old Mbappe to veterans in their 30s like Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, the team has visibly gelled, becoming more than the sum of its parts with a shared mantra of self-sacrifice that owes to Deschamps.

There hasn’t been a peep of complaint from players who have seen little or no action. The likes of defender Adil Rami, unused, and winger Florian Thauvin, who got a few late minutes against Argentina, have been models of good humor, dishing out encouragement. Bench players have celebrated goals as if they scored themselves.

“We’ve got on so well that I could spend another month with them because it’s gone so smoothly,” said center back Samuel Umtiti, who has played every game bar one and scored the winner against Belgium. “We’re always laughing. There is always something to do.”

On the field, the team-first mentality has seen midfielder Paul Pogba, in particular, curbing his natural flamboyance and excelling in a more restrained, deeper role. His defensive work has helped protect France and allowed Mbappe greater freedom to roam, run at defenders and do damage up front.

“It’s a World Cup. I want to win it. You have to make sacrifices,” Pogba said. “Defending is not my strong suit … but I do it with pleasure.”

Growing up in the Basque area of southwest France, his father, Pierre, worked as a painter and decorator; his mother, Ginette, sold wool. Polite and measured, Deschamps is a master of what the French call “the wooden tongue,” the ability to say little that could make waves, draw headlines, risk provoking foes or distract from the mission.

He’s plenty animated on the touchline when he needs to be, bawling instructions with still-audible traces of his sing-song accent and congratulating players with big hugs. But one thing he says he never talks to them about is 1998.

“It’s not their life. It’s my life but it doesn’t speak much to them,” he said. “It’s a question of generations.”

He wants them to write their own history rather than risk boring them with his. Come Sunday, they could do just that together.