Fifa World Cup 2022: France beat Morocco to face Messi’s Argentina in final
- But despite defeating the Africans 2-0, the defending champions showed flaws at the back that bode ill for their bid to secure back-to-back titles
- In the end, it was the searing pace of the French in attack that ended the Moroccans’ historic World Cup run
France became the first nation to reach consecutive World Cup finals in more than 20 years on Wednesday, as Didier Deschamps’ defending champions squeezed into the Qatar 2022 showpiece with a barely convincing 2-0 win over a crestfallen Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium.
Theo Hernandez’s fifth-minute strike gave France the lead and Randal Kolo Muani’s tap-in 11 minutes from time moved the French into the decider, the first time that any nation has appeared in two finals in a row since Brazil appeared in their third straight World Cup final in 2002.
But Deschamps’ side will need to perform at a higher level than they did against an exuberant and determined Morocco – roared on by many within the 68,294 crowd – when they take on Lionel Messi and Argentina at Lusail Stadium on Sunday if they want to retain the title and become the first nation in 60 years to win back-to-back World Cups.
The Moroccans, despite falling behind to that early Hernandez goal, repeatedly exposed weaknesses in the French defence that the 35-year-old Messi will surely seek out with relish as he aims to finish his illustrious career with the title he covets more than any other.
There were few hints that France would struggle early in the game as Deschamps’ side made the perfect start, with Morocco’s defence punished ruthlessly for a moment of impatience from Jawad El Yamiq, the midfielder attempting to jump in front of Antoine Griezmann to steal possession.
Instead, the Frenchman turned with the ball into acres of space, feeding Kylian Mbappe, and, after the second of two attempted strikes by the Paris Saint-Germain forward was blocked, possession fell to Hernandez and he slammed it home with a scissor kick.
It was the first time Morocco had trailed during this World Cup, Hernandez becoming the first opposition player to score against the North Africans, with Canada’s goal in their 2-1 defeat by the Moroccans during the group phase netted by their own Nayef Aguerd.
Rather than capitulate in the face of the world champions, however, Morocco went on the front foot.
Azzedine Ounahi forced Hugo Lloris to take action as Morocco sought the equaliser, palming the ball away with a dive to his left, and Hakim Ziyech shot wide with the Africans gamely pressing forward, breaking out of the shell that often served them well throughout this campaign.
Olivier Giroud almost made the Moroccan task even tougher, beating goalkeeper Yassine Bounou with a firmly struck left-foot shot, only for the rising effort to crash against the post and ricochet to safety.
At the other end, Hernandez was fortunate not to concede a penalty when his clumsy attempt to clear concluded with him flattening Sofiane Boufal, but referee Cesar Ramos instead booked the Moroccan for a foul only the Mexican official seemed to see.
Giroud then squandered another opportunity to double France’s lead after Mbappe was released into the Moroccan area by Youssof Fofana. Mbappe’s initial shot, off target and ineffective, was cleared to the feet of the AC Milan striker, but he pushed his attempt well wide.
Raphael Varane steered Griezmann’s corner off target before Morocco launched a late assault, Lloris making a spectacular save to push El Yaqmi’s overhead kick onto the post after Hakim Ziyech’s corner was not convincingly cleared.
The French defending became increasingly desperate as the Atlas Lions pushed forward in the second half, Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal tormenting Hernandez as last-ditch clearances from Ibrahima Konate prevented Deschamps’ side from being hauled back.
France chose to wait to hit on the break, Mbappe’s searing pace a constant threat. But the Moroccans survived, with Sofyan Amrabat’s crunching yet fair tackle on the flying forward indicative of the commitment Walid Regragui’s side continued to show.
The sheer speed of the French attack eventually paid off with 11 minutes remaining.
Substitute Marcus Thuram broke free, driving into the penalty area to feed Mbappe, whose run mesmerised the defence before his low strike bounced off into the path of Kolo Muani. The 24-year-old scored with his first touch, having just come off the bench.
The Moroccans continued to push, trying to find a way back into the game in the first-ever appearance in the semi-finals by an African nation. Those efforts proved to be in vain, and France will take on Argentina.