France beat Morocco to reach World Cup final

France 2-0 Morocco: Goals from Theo Hernandez and Randal Kolo Muani ensure the defending champions will face Argentina in Sunday’s final

Miguel Delaney
Al Bayt Stadium
Wednesday 14 December 2022 21:53 GMT
World Cup: France battle past Morocco to set up thrilling final against Argentina

If the extremity of French emotion showed how close this remarkable semi-final really was, their celebration comes at the expense of one public party. They may yet spoil another. Qatar will celebrate either way, as they have their blue-chip event, with two of their Paris Saint-Germain stars meeting.

Through that, France became just the seventh team to reach successive World Cup finals and may become just the third to retain the trophy, but only after a 2-0 win over Morocco that forced Didier Deschamps’s team to reach for their final reserves of energy.

Walid Regragui’s team pushed them to the limit. That may yet have an influence in Sunday’s grand finale against Lionel Messi’s Argentina, especially as France again looked so unconvincing. It has been a characteristic of their campaign, just as it was in 2018. Maybe they are the new Germany in that sense, right up to how they have reached three finals in the last four major competitions, and down to how they keep beating global darlings.

For France’s part, they were only too willing to share the appreciation and respect for Morocco. There were tears in the stands but pride on the pitch, and how could there not be after such a display? It was Morocco’s first defeat of the World Cup but probably their best performance - and by quite a distance.

They stepped out of defence, and showed what they can really do. There was one problem, especially when you have an attack as clinical as this French side and Kylian Mbappe.

Morocco went from the team that just wouldn’t concede to one that somehow couldn’t score, despite almost having the ball on Hugo Lloris’ line at some points.

It was incredible. It meant this wasn’t one of those semi-final defeats that left a team in anguish, but one where they could celebrate having given everything. The scenes at the end, as they went to their fans, were among the best of this otherwise controversial World Cup.

This was one of the best games of the World Cup - and all that because Morocco finally conceded.

It had actually seemed like they had pushed themselves past the limit. With Regragui naming all of his injury doubts in the starting XI, Nayef Aguerd had to pull out. The defence was then a rabble in the opening few minutes as the French ran through them with their first proper attack. It was like they couldn’t quite give enough any more, as Rafael Varane found Antoine Griezmann in the sort of space in the box Morocco just weren’t offering up in previous games. A Mbappe shot led to some desperate blocks, before Theo Hernandez just prodded the ball home.

It was all from a scene of chaos just not seen in this commanding Moroccan defence all World Cup, and seemed to get worse. Moments later, Olivier Giroud - of all people - easily outpaced Romain Saiss to fire a shot off the post. Great as the otherwise slow striker has become, you could argue there’s no clearer sign of a physical problem for a defender, in this case taking insult from injury.

Hernandez scored the opening goal

Regragui had no choice but to introduce Selim Amallah.

It looked like they could be on the verge of collapse. Rather than patch themselves together in a final panic, however, Morocco came together. They rallied. They produced what was probably their most stirring performance of the World Cup, even after all that.

France were rattled. They were momentarily scared when Hernandez seemed to bring down Sofiane Boufal in the box, only for the referee to inexplicably book the Moroccan winger.

Regragui’s team didn’t need the sense of injustice to motivate them but it added to the impetus. They were soon coming at France with full force. They were transformed. This was personified by Jawad El-Yamiq, who went from a mistake for the goal to a brilliant block on Griezmann and then a sensational bicycle kick that brought a full-stretch save from Lloris.

The French were being stretched. The ball was flashing across the box with concerning closeness, Yahia Attiyat Allah blazing over with one opportunity.

The full-blooded, full-on nature of this semi-final was perfectly illustrated with one electric second-half moment. Mbappe finally went full pelt with a run up the left, the manner he kept it in place emphasising how he kept pace, before Amarabat charged right back to fly through the ball - and maybe some of the forward’s leg - with a challenge that was leaving nothing out.

It was like that with the entire display.

When France finally got some relief from so much Moroccan pressure, Mbappe released what looked an unstoppable effort only for Selim Amallah to put his body on the line.

Kolo Muani finally sealed victory for the French

It was again symbolic of the whole display.

France had no control. Abderazak Hamdallah just about had the ball under control with one careering run through. He just couldn’t get the shot off.

Deschamps had to change something. Randal Kolo Muani was brought on for Ousmane Dembele.

It didn’t just change the game. It killed it. That wasn’t all down to the substitute’s opportunistic finish. It was mostly down to the feet and finesse of Mbappe, again displaying a moment of clarity amid so much chaos.

That means France go on to meet Argentina, Mbappe to meet Messi, so much coming together for Qatar. It is a proper event of a final, a classic fixture. Africa’s first semi-finalists, however, were a proper revelation.

That can be celebrated almost as much as a win. It could be sensed in French relief.

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