France will play Argentina in the final of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The defending champions beat Morocco by 2 – 0 in their semi-final on Wednesday night, denying them the opportunity to make history.
Instead it is the French who have the chance to etch their place in the record books by becoming only the third team in the history of the competition to defend their title, following in the footsteps of Italy (1934 and 1938), and Brazil (1958, and 1962).
France took an early lead when Antoine Griezmann escaped down the right, and his cross found Kylian Mbappé who, although his shot was blocked, it rebounded into the path of full-back Theo Hernández to hook home.
Undaunted and roared on by the crowd, Morocco pressed for an equaliser which almost came when Jawad El Yamiq’s overhead kick was tipped onto the post by Hugo Lloris in the French goal.
At the other end, Olivier Giroud also hit a post for France, and then spurned a gilt edge chance with the goal at his mercy.
Morocco in the second half were guilty of overplaying, trying to create the perfect opportunity from which to score. And they were punished when Randal Kolo Muani scored with his first touch after coming on as a substitute, after more good work by Mbappé.
That effectively ended the match as a contest, although Morocco kept trying until the final whistle.
France keep their heads
Given the raucous atmosphere in the stadium, it would have been easy for France to lose their heads and to panic. However, they maintained their composure and discipline and refused to be intimidated by the environment.
They also demonstrated again the winning mentality which their manager Didier Deschamps said had given his team the edge in their quarter-final win over England. This is now a side that knows what it takes to win in tournament football.
They have ridden their luck at times, but that is only to be expected at this level.
Mbappé remains the star
Mbappé may not have scored in this match, but he remains the star for the team. He was involved in both goals whist his marauding runs down the left posed constant problems for the Moroccan defence. He was switched to the centre when Olivier Giroud was substituted and from their created a fresh set of challenges, and his mere presence meant that other team-mates found more space.
Muani’s dream cameo
Muani was not in the original French squad and was only drafted in as a late replacement following an injury to Christopher Nkunku.
He had been an unused substitute in the previous games in this World Cup and it was something of a surprise when manager Didier Deschamps introduced him off the bench in the 79th minute. But he repaid the faith shown in him by scoring after just 44 seconds, with his first goal for his country.
It was the third fastest goal scored by a substitute in World Cup history.
Morocco’s hopes ended
Morocco’s hopes of becoming the first African country and first Arab nation ultimately fell at the final hurdle, but they can still return home with a great deal of pride, and having claimed the scalps of major teams like Belgium, Spain and Portugal whilst they had been in Qatar.
Their progress to the last four was no accident, however, but was the result of hard work, discipline and defensive solidity. Prior to the semi-final; they had conceded just one goal in open play, and that was an own goal.
And they also gave the local population a team to follow, after the home nation Qatar had become the first to be knocked-out of the tournament.
That helped keep up enthusiasm for the competition, for which FIFA will be glad (and they will also use it as further justification for awarding them the tournament in the first place.)
Possibly they lacked a cutting edge up front, but there was no disgrace in losing to superior opposition in the end.
What happens next
France will now play Argentina in Sunday’s final. Morocco’s World Cup campaign is not over quite yet. They will now play Croatia on Saturday to determine who finishes third in the tournament.
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