France end fairytale run of Morocco, reach final
Doha, December 15, 2022
Reigning world champions France scored once in each half to overcome the spirited challenge of Morocco on Wednesday night at Al Bayt Stadium to set up a FIFA World Cup final showdown with Argentina on Sunday.
The Les Bleus took the lead through Theo Hernandez's scrambled fifth minute goal. Randal Kolo Muani wrapped up matters in the 79th, less than a minute after coming on, after a fine solo from Kylian Mbappe.
France ended the fairytale run of the Atlas Lions in the tournament, with Dider Deschamps' side bidding to become the first team in 60 years to win back-to-back titles. Only Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 have clinched back-to-back titles.
France is the sixth nation to reach successive World Cup finals, the others being Italy (1934, 1938), Brazil (twice: 1958, 1962 and 1994, 1998, 2002), the Netherlands (1974, 1978), West Germany (1982, 1986, 1990) and Argentina (1986, 1990).
Should France win, Didier Deschamps - who was a player when France won their first title in 1998 - will join Italy's Vittorio Pozzo as the only coach to win two World Cups in a row.
The 1978 and 1986 champions Argentina beat 2018 runners-up Croatia 3-0 in the first semi-final on Tuesday and Lionel Messi now hopes for the trophy in his fifth and final attempt in what will be a big duel with his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Mbappe.
France beat Argentina 4-3 in the last 16 en route to the 2018 title, after losing the first two World Cup dates between the two in 1930 and 1978.
Morocco and Croatia will play for third place on Saturday.
On Wednesday night Morocco, backed by their legion of supporters, who outnumbered France, were pushed all the way by World Cup wildcards. The scoreline belies their performance and how close the game was.
The first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final refused to buckle despite suffering the early blows of losing key defender Nayef Aguerd to injury after he was named in the starting line-up, and then an early goal.
France's key player continued to be Antoine Griezmann and his reinvention as a playmaker has been a hot topic of the World Cup. His sharp movements create space for others to run into and also ensure he's always available to receive the ball. France's player of the tournament without any doubt.
Mbappe's shot from near the penalty box was blocked but the deflection fell to Hernandez at the far post, who acrobatically lashed the ball home to net in a scrappy goal, 1-0.
The reigning world champions threatened on several occasions to extend their lead, but Morocco managed to pose problems too, particularly in an excellent period just before the interval, which saw the Atlas Lions create a string of goal-scoring opportunities.
Morocco responded well to the early goal and had France on the ropes in the early part of the second half. They were competitive and didn't shy away from playing their game against the defending champions.
It was left to the brilliance of Mbappe to break open the Morocco defense for the second time in the match.
Mbappe remarkably weaved his way past a clutter of legs in the box and got a shot away, but it was blocked. The deflection fell to Kolo Muani, who tapped in from close range with his first touch of the game, 2-0.
France have rarely stepped out of second gear in this World Cup. Barring certain periods like in Wednesday's match and in the quarter-final against England, they've rarely had to dig deep in games. Despite being wracked by injuries; they've continued to march on.
The final thus will be showdown between Mbappe and Messi, a match within a match.