Reigning World Cup champions France have booked their place in the final in Qatar after a hard-fought 2-0 win over the tournament’s surprise package Morocco.
France will now play Argentina in the decider (Monday 2am AEDT), with Didier Deschamps’ men hoping to become the first team to win consecutive titles in 60 years – and just the third in history.
It was far from a vintage attacking performance from the European heavyweights, but rather a masterclass of pragmatism. France sat deep and ceded possession in order to nullify the dangerous Moroccan counter-attack, earning their first clean sheet of the tournament while counter-attacking themselves to deadly effect.
The European heavyweights got off to a perfect start with a Theo Hernandez goal in 4 minutes and 39 seconds – the earliest in a semi-final since Brazil in 1958.
Despite being decimated by injuries, Morocco fought back gamely and threatened the world champions time and again, with both sides striking the post in the first half.
Far from being overawed by the occassion or bowed by the early deficit, Morocco continued to push forward in the second period and had the reigning champions under siege for extended periods, only for France to seal victory with a goal from substitute Randal Kolo Muani in the 79th minute.
France will now face Lionel Messi’s Argentina in the decider (Monday 2am AEDT), while Morocco will face Croatia in the third-place playoff (Sunday 2am).
“There is emotion and pride,” French coach Deschamps said. “Obviously it was another important step today and now there will be another one.“We’ve been together for a month. It’s never easy, but here it is — it’s been a joy so far and my players have been rewarded.”
Morocco’s defender #18 Jawad El Yamiq reacts to his team’s defeat.Source: AFP
Morocco is the first African, Arab, and Muslim nation to reach a semi-final, having beaten three European nations ranked inside the top ten. But it took just five minutes for their defence to be breached for just the second time in the tournament.
Defender Raphael Varane played Antoine Griezmann behind the defence with a pinpoint through ball, and Griezmann raced into the box and cut the ball back for Kylian Mbappe. The PSG star’s shot was blocked, but it bounced to the back post where fullback Theo Hernandez acrobatically volleyed into the net.
Both sides came close to scoring in a thrilling first half, with France striker Olivier Giroud and Morocco’s defender Jawad El Yamiq both hitting the post, the latter with a bicycle kick.
The underdogs were decimated with injuries, losing Nayef Aguerd in the warm-ups, captain Romain Saiss after 21 minutes, and Noussair Mazraoui at half-time – three of their starting defenders.
But Morocco had the French under significant pressure as they bravely attempted to mount a comeback. They finished with 62 percent of possession and 572 passes to France’s 364.
But France held off the African nation and hit back in the 79th minute through substitute Randal Kolo Muani, who tapped the ball home at the back post with his first touch of the game.
His maiden international goal came just 44 seconds after he entered the pitch – the second-quickest substitute’s goal ever scored in a World Cup knockout match.
France’s forward #12 Randal Kolo Muani (C) scores his team’s second goal.Source: AFP
France coach Didier Deschamps was forced into a pair of changes to his starting line-up after a flu-like illness spread through the squad in recent days.
Midfielder Adrien Rabiot and central defender Dayot Upamecano were both ruled out after missing training.
Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate replaced Upamecano, while Youssef Fofana replaced Rabiot – who wasn’t even fit for the bench.
Morocco were beset by a barrage of injuries throughout the tournament, leaving a number of stars struggling for fitness heading into the semi-final.
But coach Walid Regragui made the bold decision to name a trio of injured players in his starting line-up – a decision that would soon backfire, with Regragui losing three defenders by half-time.
West Ham’s central defender Nayef Aguerd missed the quarter-final with a groin/adductor injury, but was set to start the semi-final, only to be ruled out at the last minute after struggling in the wam-up. Achraf Dari replaced him.
Fullback Noussair Mazraoui was ruled out of the quarter-final with a hip flexor issue but started against France, as did captain and centre-back Romain Saiss – despite being stretchered off in the quarterfinal with a hamstring injury.
France’s midfielder #13 Youssouf Fofana celebrates after his team won the Qatar 2022 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Morocco at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on December 14, 2022. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)Source: AFP
France: Lloris, Kounde, Varane, Konate, Theo Hernandez, Tchouameni, Fofana, Dembele, Griezmann, Mbappe, Giroud.
Morocco: Bounou, Hakimi, El Yamiq, Aguerd, Saiss, Mazraoui, Ziyech, Ounahi, Amrabat, Boufal, En-Nesyri.
AS IT HAPPENED
In front of an extremely partisan crowd in Morocco’s favour, the underdogs started brightly – only to cop a hammer blow in the fifth minute.
Defender Raphael Varane played Antoine Griezmann behind the defence with a pinpoint through ball, and Griezmann raced into the box and cut the ball back for Kylian Mbappe. The PSG star’s shot was blocked, but it bounced to the back post where fullback Theo Hernandez acrobatically volleyed it into the net.
Morocco nearly hit back immediately as midfielder Azzedine Ounahi lashed a long-range shot into the bottom-right corner in the 10th minute, but it was well saved by Hugo Lloris – the French goalkeeper making history with his 19th World Cup appearance, the most of any gloveman.
The African nation continued to push forward, but Les Bleus threatened on the counterattack and almost doubled their advantage when striker Olivier Giroud slammed the post.
Then captain Romain Saiss was forced from the field with the hamstring injury he had battled all tournament. The defender had bravely started the match despite being stretchered off in the 57th minute of their quarter-final against Portugal, but was clearly struggling to move and was forced off in the 21st minute for midfielder Selim Amallah.
The Moroccans were enjoying plenty of possession – 60% in the opening half an hour – but struggled to make inroads to the well-organised France defence.
In the 27th minute, Sofiane Boufal earned a yellow card for a desperate lunge on Hernandez in the French box – but which could well have been a penalty.
Chris Sutton told BBC Five Live Radio: “It looked like a penalty to Morocco for me. VAR not working.”
Kylian Mbappe burst behind the defence in the 36th minute from a Tchouameni run through the middle, but the winger left the ball behind him as he raced onto goal. His scuffed shot was cleared off the line by his good friend and PSG teammate Achraf Hakimi. The ball was regathered by Hernandez and quickly played back into the box for Giroud, but his first-time shot at an empty goal was screwed wide. It was already France’s eighth shot of the match.
France was incorrectly given a corner in the 40th minute after Griezmann was well-tackled in the box by El Yamiq. The Atletico Madrid Frenchman whipped in a low cross to an unmarked Varane at the front post, but the defender could not redirect the ball on target.
In the 45th minute, Morocco nearly scored a stunning volley of their own on the brink of halftime. Ziyech charged into the box but a perfect sliding tackle from Ibrahima Konate put the ball out for a corner. From the Ziyech set piece, El Yamiq attempted a brilliant bicycle kick which had goalkeeper Lloris beaten – only to slam into the post.
At half-time, Noussair Mazraoui was substituted off with Yahia Attiyat Allah his replacement – the third Morocco defender having to be taken off after entering the match under an injury cloud.
Both sides had early chances in a scintillating start to the second stanza, with Mbappe heavily involved at one end before being scythed down in a heap by Amrabat near the Morocco penalty box.
At the other end, Morocco had France under siege with a series of surges into the box.
In the 54th minute, striker Youssef En-Nesyri was denied by a last-gasp tackle, before Ziyech raced to the by-line soon aftererwards and tried to lay it off for En-Nesyri to finish from close range, only for Konate to deny him.
Three minutes later, Hakimi turned neatly inside the box but the ball just got away from him before he could fire a shot.
Both sides turned to their benches in the 65th minute. Morocco took off striker En-Nesyri, who had touched the ball just three times, for Abderrazak Hamfallah, and replaced winger Sofiane Boufal with another attacker Zakaria Aboukhlal.
France took off Giroud for Marcus Thuram.
In the 70th minute, Thuram nearly made an immediate impact when he was brought down on a lightning-quick counter-attack, with Dari somehow escaping a yellow card. Griezmann’s dead-ball cross found Thuram at the back post, but his header bounced wide.
Chances continued to mount for both teams as tension rose in the final minutes. France gave the ball away in their own half and Hamdallah weaved his way into the box, but waited a moment too late to take a shot.
Selim Amallah – who was brought on in the first half for Morocco – was taken off in the 78th minute for Abde Ezzalzouli.
Then Ousmane Dembele, who had been kept quiet by the Moroccan defence, was taken off in the 79th minute for Randal Kolo Mouani.
The substitute scored with his first touch of the game, after a brilliant France counter-attack took advantage of a poor pass from the Moroccan defence.
France’s forward #12 Randal Kolo Muani celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup semi-final football match between France and Morocco at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha on December 14, 2022. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP)Source: AFP
Kylian Mbappe played a crucial role, playing the ball around on the edge of the area before his eventual shot was blocked. It fell fortunately to Kolo Muani at the back post who could hardly miss at the back post, scoring his first international goal.
Morocco nearly gave up and came close to fighting back in the closing moments, with a shot cleared off the line by Jules Kounde.
Courtesy: Fox Sports
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