France are on the verge of defending their World Cup crown after claiming a 2-0 victory over Morocco in Wednesday’s semi-final, and they will now face Argentina in the final on Sunday.
The reigning champions took an early lead through defender Theo Hernandez but Morocco did not hold back and still put out a spirited performance to keep France at bay from adding to their lead.
Morocco’s game plan already took a hit due to a host of injuries and niggles but manager Walid Regragui was able to name something close to his strongest XI – until Nayef Aguerd pulled out just before kick-off – while France were without Adrien Rabiot and Dayot Upamecano who had both missed training due to illness.
The African side had gone five matches in Qatar without conceding to an opponent – an own goal against Canada the only blot on their remarkable defensive copybook. It was a different story on Wednesday night as it took just five minutes for France to break the deadlock.
In virtually their first forward push, a series of deflections and bounces saw the ball drop kindly for left-back Hernandez who acrobatically diverted his shot past goalkeeper Bono and into the back of the net to break the deadlock.
Throughout this tournament, Regragui’s side have created a reputation of being ‘stubborn’ and that was true again at the Al Bayt Stadium with the Atlas Lions never letting their heads drop despite the early goal. Azzedine Ounahi very nearly levelled the scores, but his long-range curling effort was pushed away at full stretch by Hugo Lloris.
Just when it looked like Morocco were clinging on for half-time, they very nearly equalized after a spectacular bicycle kick from centre-back Jawad El Yamiq came within inches of sneaking in but he was denied by a combination of the post and Lloris’ fingertips. The game seemed there for the taking.
France made a number of changes late on and it was substitute Randal Kolo Muani who killed off the tie with his very first touch; only 44 seconds after coming on, to make it the third fastest goal scored by a substitute in World Cup history.
The result means France will now take on Argentina at the Lusail Stadium in Sunday’s showpiece, with Didier Deschamps’ side bidding to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to win the World Cup in back-to-back tournaments. Elsewhere, Morocco will take on Croatia in the third-place play-off on Saturday.