France will play Morocco in the second semi-final of the 2022 Qatar World Cup on December 14th.
Both teams are bidding to make history. France have the chance to emulate Italy in 1934 and 1938, and Brazil in 1958 and 1962, by retaining the World Cup, whilst Morocco are bidding to become the first Arab nation, and the first from Africa, to reach a World Cup final.
Can France defend their crown?
France are now the favourites to defend the crown that they won in Russia four years ago.
Injuries to key players in the lead-up to the tournament meant that the French public did not rate their chances highly in Qatar, but they have proved that they have strength in depth and their experience in major competitions.
And that stood them in good stead in their quarter-final with England, with the two teams well-matched for most of the game, but with France able to win the big moments, scoring a late goal from Olivier Giroud and then surviving a missed penalty from England’s Harry Kane.
What England did do well was to negate the threat of Kylian Mbappé, the leading scorer in the competition so far, who had a quiet night, but arguably in dealing with his threat, they left space for others to play.
Morocco the history makers
Morocco continue to blaze the trail in Qatar. Not only are the first African nation ever to reach a World Cup semi-final, but the first from an Arab nation with a predominantly Muslim population, perhaps fittingly in the inaugural World Cup played in the Middle East.
There is nothing freakish about their progress, though. It has been based on the best defence in the competition – they have only conceded once, and that was an own goal – supplemented by hard work, organisation and the ability to break quickly on the counter-attack.
They have also shown resilience, spending almost the entire second half of their quarter-final with Portugal protecting their first-half lead.
A factor that France will need to cope with in this match is the noise and atmosphere created by the crowd, which will be overwhelming pro-Morocco. They will also be hoping that this does not put the match officials under any undue pressure.
France are not invulnerable
Although France will begin the match as heavy favourites, they are not invulnerable especially at the back and the match against England suggested that they can be exposed in the full-back areas by anybody with pace and some trickery.
They also need to be wary of committing too many men upfield. Belgium found out to their cost what can happen when teams do this against the North Africans in their group match.
Mbappé the key?
If Morocco are to succeed, then they need to follow the English blueprint of keeping Kylian Mbappé quiet, and stop him getting into dangerous positions. It means that they will have to be prepared to double up on him, aware at the same time, which can potentially leave space for others to exploit.
The 23-year-old, though, has the potential to be a match-winner all by himself, with his pace and power, and, if he can help France win the tournament, could make himself the prime candidate to win the Ballon d’Or next year.
Morocco are unlikely to change their style and approach just because they are playing in the biggest match of their lives. They will be organised, defend all over the pitch, and will harry the French every time that they have the ball.
And, when the chance presents itself, they will spring forward, hoping to catch out their opponents with rapid counter-attacks.
But manager Didier Deschamps has assembled a squad of street-wise fighters who know how to win games at major tournaments.
They should have the experience to cope with the atmosphere and pressure of the match, and will not panic should they go behind.
In Mbappé they have arguably the best player in the world right now, and he will be keen to underline his status on the global stage.
Morocco have done themselves very proud by getting this far, but Africa is going to have to wait a while longer before they have their first World Cup winners.
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