Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

FIFA World Cup 2022: France set up a final date with Argentina

Goals from Hernandez and Kolu Muani help defending champions end Morocco’s fairytale.
Argentina will meet France in the final on Sunday with one team leaving the thumb-like peninsula with a third World Cup title. Goals from Theo Hernandez in the fifth minute and Randal Kolo Muani in the 79th helped France see off Morocco. Wait, it wasn’t that easy. When Morocco knelt in prayer after the game, there were tears in the stands and on the pitch at Al Bayt but the team was given a send-off deserving of those who had made history for Africa this time. Morocco took in an early goal but there were many moments when they could have nicked a goal leading to a semi-final that was end-to-end. When the contest ended, friends and PSG mates Achraf Hakimi and Kylian Mbappe were locked in an embrace and Olivier Giroud enveloped Morocco coach Walid Regragui. Morocco had earned France’s respect just like they had of Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Canada.

For the first time in this tournament, Regragui’s team was chasing a game. Hernandez’s acrobatic side volley that put France ahead in the fifth minute was reminiscent of Gerd Mueller’s strike in the 1974 final. France’s left-back twisted sideways and landed a proper connection to a ball that bounced high. It was an excellent strike from a player who wouldn’t have played had his brother Lucas not been injured in the first match.
The goal happened due to an error at the back from a team whose defense has been the closest to foolproof in Doha. Raphael Varane tried to break the lines with a grounder and so sure of his interceptions, Jawad El Yamiq has attempted one with Antoine Griezmann on his shoulder and looking to peel off. He missed and though Griezmann found Kylian Mbappe, France’s forward was denied twice. In the ensuing confusion, no one noticed that Hernandez had arrived.

Morocco responded with a version of themselves neither Spain nor Portugal had seen. Partly by default but a lot by design. Roman Saiss pulled up injured, the skipper has been playing through pain from extra time against Spain. Nayef Aguard had pulled out injured during warm-up and Saiss leaving meant that the first-choice center-backs were not available in the biggest match in Morocco’s history.
It meant a shift to a back four with Sofyan Amrabat playing in front. It also meant Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal staying upfield. If Morocco were to go down, they wouldn’t without letting France face some red heat.

But for the hands of Hugo Lloris, they would have equalized too in the first half which ended with Morocco having more of the ball, playing more passes, and having more shots on target. Hakim Ziyach didn’t test the France captain but Azz-Edine Ounahi did with an 11th-minute drive that was fierce, accurate, and low. Lloris flew to his right to save. The France captain had to go to the other side to redirect El Yamiq’s scissors kick into the upright near half-time. That shot had come following a corner kick conceded by a timely interception from Ibrahima Konate.
In because Dayot Upamecano was not available, as wasn’t Adrien Rabiot forcing France to start with Wesley Foffana in midfield, Konate made a number of excellent interceptions in his penalty area. In the 76th minute, Abderrazzak Hamdallah delayed shooting and was dispossessed. Twice, Griezmann, who had another good night, saved France with timely clearances.

The world champions were leading but the contest was far from over. It would have been had Olivier Giroud not thudded into the post and then failed to keep a volley on target. For the first, Giroud was through because Saiss couldn’t stop a long ball from the back; the second because Aurelien Tchouameni stole and then threaded a pass that Kylian Mbappe reached but El Yamiq had blocked it only for France to go at it again. Morocco was leaving space and though France couldn’t make the most of it, the danger was always there.
The insurance goal happened not because Morocco had moved up but because they had dropped too deep. That let France carry the ball and find Mbappe who along with Marcus Thurram kept Morocco engaged on the left side of the penalty box. With three players surrounding him, Mbappe managed to find Randal Kolo Muani, albeit with a deflection that was enough to wrongfoot Yahiya Attiayat Allah. The fairytale was over.

There were a few more hectic moments in front of France’s goal but the defending champions held on. France became the first team since Brazil in 1998 to make the final as defending champions. They are one win away from being the first team to retain the title since 1962 and the first with the same coach since Vittorio Pozzo in 1938.

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