Lusail Stadium will play host to Messi-Mbappe showdown after history-making Africans narrowly defeated by defending champions.
France v Morocco | Semi-finals | FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ | Highlights
- Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani score French goals
- Morocco fall just short of becoming first African nation in World Cup final
- Didier Deshamps’ team will aim to regain Trophy in Argentina clash
France 2-0 Morocco
Goals: France: Hernandez (5), Kolo Muani (79)
It can’t have happened on too many occasions in 21 previous editions, but a team reached the World Cup final and weren’t the main story of the night.
France led from the fifth minute against Morocco, Theo Hernandez becoming the first opposition player to score past Yassine Bounou in six matches in Qatar when the left-back despatched an awkward ball with an agilely dispatched effort.
Didier Deschamps’ team deserve every plaudit they receive for winning a fourth World Cup semi-final inside the regulation 90 minutes. France will aim to become the first back-to-back winners since Brazil in 1962 when they face Argentina at Lusail Stadium on Sunday.
It is a mouth-watering final with all the makings of a classic. The teams last met at Russia 2018 when the French, inspired by a teenage Kylian Mbappe, won a cracking contest 4-3. Mbappe, attempting to win his second World Cup, against Paris Saint-Germain colleague Lionel Messi, pursuing his most cherished prize, is one of multiple narratives to whet the appetite over the next few days.
But Morocco exit this World Cup as history makers and following a performance packed with courage and spirit and perseverance. The first team from Africa and the Arab world to play in a World Cup semi-final, they dug into the deepest reserves of endurance and character in an attempt to go one better.
The Atlas Lions barely put a foot wrong defensively in this competition. But they paid a heavy price for a minor error when Jawad El Yamiq leapt out of his defensive line to allow Antoine Griezmann a run into the box. Achraf Hakimi flew across to apply a tremendous block when Mbappe tried to steer home the delivery, but Morocco were unable to recover their shape.
Mbappe shot again, the ball deflecting kindly for Hernandez – who wouldn’t have been playing but for an injury to brother Lucas in the opening match – to steer home his second international goal.
Olivier Giroud capitalised on a rare piece of misjudgement from Romain Saiss to run through and rattle the post after 17 minutes. Saiss was evidently inhibited by the thigh injury he sustained earlier in the tournament and the talismanic centre-back was soon replaced, joining fellow defender Nayef Aguerd, forced to withdraw from the starting XI prior to kick-off, on the sidelines.
It felt like the roof might fall in on Morocco. But that was to underestimate this resilient, gifted team. Hugo Lloris had already been tested by Azzedine Onuahi’s dipping strike – hit with the instep, a la Cristiano Ronaldo – when Ibrahima Konate, deputising for the under the weather Dayot Upamecano, did very well to prevent Youssef En-Nesryi from connecting with Selim Amallah’s cross in front of goal.
El Yamik nearly atoned for his earlier mistake in spectacular fashion when, with his back to goal, the left-sided centre-half carefully tracked Giroud’s clearing header from a corner and met the dropping ball with an overhead kick that need a combination of Lloris’s right glove and the upright to keep it out.
Morocco finished the half applying pressure to their opponents’ goal via a succession of dead-ball deliveries, without cracking strong French resistance.
Konate managed another tremendous interception when En-Nesyri’s eyes widened as a delivery from substitute Yahya Attiat-Allah arrived in the six-yard box. Hakimi couldn’t tame the ball in a promising position in the French box and another substitute in Abderrazak Hamdallah stirred memories of Diego Maradona with a defender-dodging dribble into the penalty area. Hamdallah, who would be denied a consolation deep into stoppage time by Jules Kounde’s goalline clearance, delayed his strike and was eventually crowded out.
There was no hesitation from Randal Kolo Muani, however, and no sign of the 24-year-old needing time to warm-up seconds after his introduction, when Mbappe capped an excellent piece of build-up play with a shot that was deflected towards the back post.
Kolo Muani was never going to miss from close range and duly claimed a momentous first international goal. It was a nice piece of history for the Eintracht Frankfurt player. But no match for the story created by Morocco over the past three weeks.
The progress in Qatar of Walid Regragui’s Moroccan trailblazers was founded on sturdy defence; only one goal conceded en route to the last four and that scored by one of their own players when they led Canada 2-0.
Indeed, Aguerd’s lapse against the Canadians was the only goal let in by Morocco in nine matches prior to this encounter. For all the experience and talent in a team brilliantly coached and organised by Regragui, Morocco didn’t know what it was to fall behind until Hernandez’s fifth-minute goal.
The left-back’s strike gave France an early advantage. More pertinently, for the first time in Regragui’s extraordinary reign, Morocco were trailing. They’ve overcome all manner of challenges to make history. Despite a herculean effort, this one was beyond even them.
All France’s World Cup final appearances
Look back at previous times Les Bleus have contested final ahead of Qatar showpiece.
- Theo Hernández’s opener, after four minutes, 39 seconds, is the earliest scored by any side in a World Cup semi-final since 1958, when Vava scored inside two minutes for Brazil against France.
- France have won their past four FIFA World Cup semi-final matches inside 90 minutes (1998, 2006, 2018 and 2022). They had been unsuccessful in their previous three World Cup semi-finals (1958, 1982 and 1986)
Morocco coach Walid Regragui, who was applauded into the press conference auditorium post-match: “We were disappointed for Moroccan people tonight, we wanted to keep their dream alive. Of course, we’re pleased with what we achieved but we felt we could have gone even further.
“But small details help real champions win and we saw them tonight. They have a lot of subs who can come in and make the difference but I said to the players I was proud of them and his Majesty is proud and the Moroccan people are proud. We have given a good image of Morocco and a good image of African football.”
France coach Didier Deschamps, who confirmed President Macron visited the team’s changing room to offer his congratulations: “I am always proud when I achieve results like this, it is great to have got through to the final on Sunday. It was not an easy victory, we showed our quality and experience and team spirit, we had to dig deep in the challenging moments in the match and as coach I am very proud and pleased with my players. I don’t really think about myself but, of course, I appreciate the fact we’ve had this success.”
France forward Antoine Griezmann: “Morocco impressed me, they were set up well tactically and defensively. And in the second half they created a lot of opportunities and caused problems for us… the fact we scored an early goal made things easier and the second goal made it more comfortable. It was a tough game and comes down to small details.”
On final opponents Argentina: “Any team with Messi is a totally different proposition. We’ve seen Argentina play… they seem to be on top form. There isn’t only Messi, they have a strong side around him. We know it will be tough game and they will have a lot of supporters in the crowd.”