Football News

France 2-0 Morocco: History beckons for Les Bleus after taming Atlas Lions

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 21:30, 14 December 2022

A spirited Morocco couldn’t piece together another history-making World Cup moment as France ran out 2-0 winners in their semi-final meeting this evening.

Success in Al Khor means Didier Deschamps’ men are now one win away from becoming the first back-to-back world champions since Brazil managed to achieve this feat 60 years ago. As for the Atlas Lions, who are Africa’s first-ever semifinalists, they have an opportunity to sign off with a bronze medal when they face Croatia again this weekend.

Les Bleus, meanwhile, have a date with Lionel Messi and company. It’s a game that will surely be centre around the aforementioned six-time Ballon d’Or winner and his would-be successor Kylian Mbappé; both — teammates at Paris Saint-Germain — are vying for tournament ‘MVP’ and top scorer. Argentina, also chasing a third star, was on the receiving end of a seven-goal thriller in Russia four years ago. Mbappé starred in a 4-3 win that saw Messi goalless albeit creating two of La Albiceleste‘s efforts.

Before kick-off, Walid Regragui received bad news as West Ham defender Nayef Aguerd dropped out. He was replaced by Achraf Dari in the heart of their defence. His system remained intact with Morocco lining up in its usual 3-4-3 shape. Regragui had cited Diego Simeone as an inspiration behind their historic World Cup run. “We had a big heart, we didn’t leave spaces and we had technical players who make the difference,” he said after the Portugal win. “Our style of play was similar to the one we used against Spain, and it’s similar to Cholo Simeone’s too. Some people say something that it’s not good, but he’s performed it very well. We are doing really well tactically.”

His game plan, though, went ripped up early doors. Theo Hernandez, who made his international debut three years after France’s most recent triumph, acrobatically put the European side ahead with the game five minutes old. The Milan left-back started this competition on the bench he’s been an ever-present following his brother’s tournament-ending knee injury.

Incredibly, his strike meant four of France’s last five World Cup semi-final goals had been scored by defenders. Hernandez also became the first opposition player to score past Morocco at these finals with their only conceded effort coming via an own goal against Canada in the group phase. It was also France’s earliest World Cup goal since a Bernard Lacombe strike against Italy in 1978 (1st minute), and the earliest scored by any side in a World Cup semi-final since 1958 when Vavá scored within two minutes for Brazil against France.

A further blow to Morocco came 20 minutes into the game when Wolves centre-back Saiss reaggravated a hamstring injury. Even in his absence they rallied and could have drawn level but for Hugo Lloris denying Jawad El Yamiq’s audacious overhead kick. Morocco finished the opening half strongly, pinning France back into their own half, and began the second 45 equally strong with Azzedine Ounahi, a candidate for breakout tournament star, pulling the strings, everything Morocco was doing well came right through him.

But they could not capitalise and were cruelly punished. Randal Kolo Muani, who had been on the pitch for 44 seconds, tapped in France’s second. It was recorded as the third-quickest goal for a substitute in World Cup history. Kolo Muani had been initially left out of Deschamps’ 26-man squad, but was included after injury to Christopher Nkunku earned him a last-minute call-up.

Lloris was fortunate to keep a clean sheet as Abderrazak Hamdallah saw a 94th-minute effort blocked on the line by Jules Kounde. Things will not get any easier on Sunday, but the French — who is the first nation to reach back-to-back World Cup finals since Brazil in 2002, and the first European country to do so since Germany in 1990 — are on the cusp of producing together something we’ve not seen in six decades. Deschamps, who is only the fourth manager to lead a nation to back-to-back World Cup finals, can end the week standing on the shoulders of giants.