It was, after all, a triumph for French know-how, for their ability to handle such an event, to get the job done, even if it was below their best ability. Theo Hernandez scored early and Didier Deschamps was able to fend off excellent defensive play, especially from Ibrahima Konate, to give his team their first clean sheet in this Football World Cup.
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When Kylian Mbappé came to life late in the penalty area, showing his winking toes and seeing the low kick bounce, it was substitute Randal Colo Muani who scored the goal. Antoine Griezmann has again excelled in midfield, an example of composure amid the turmoil, easy balance and technique, his joy in judging everything around him, and France remains on track to defend their title. The final against Argentina on Sunday promises to be a classic.
Yet the broad strokes failed to capture how Morocco made France sweat, how they played inside out, and not a hint of an inferiority complex. The African team – the first from the continent to reach the semi-finals of the Football World Cup – has long since overcome it in their epic victory over Belgium in the group stage, Spain and Portugal in the playoffs.
Walid Regraga’s Atlas Lions ridiculed the haughty European claims of being too defensive, coming to the fore, breaking lines and creating chances. It was an occasion to excite the fans who turned this stadium into a red sea, and a multi-million dollar homecoming. When the Regraga players collapsed to the turf when it was all over, they did so leaving everything there.
Throws of 200-1 at the start of the tournament have only won the previous two matches at that level. They worked miracles; Leicester City on adrenaline overload, or as Regragi put it, Rocky Balboa. It would have been too far, although, as France celebrated, the moment of a lump in the throat – a long and exciting applause from Morocco from all sides of the arena.
It was a night when the atmosphere throbbed, the sense of history and, yes, the possibilities were hard to ignore. It was another return on the passion and huge investment in the Moroccan game by King Mohammed VI and the national federation. Everyone who traveled was determined to live it to the fullest.
What Morocco did not take into account was the concession of an early goal. Regragui lined up in the back five for the first time, and it was broken when Rafael Varane made a sweet pass from the right of Griezmann, which Jawad El-Yamik tried to intercept. He failed. For more know about Football World Cup Final Tickets.
Griezmann fired low and Mbappe blocked two shots. After the second ball was at the far post of Hernandez, and his side kick was perfect. It was only the second goal Morocco conceded here – after a crazy own goal against Canada – and the first time they fell behind.
Regragui lost Nayef Agerd before the start of the match, having initially named him in the starting XI, and the second central defender, Romain Saiss, who was in doubt when choosing, did not last longer than the 21st minute. He limped a few seconds after misjudging a tall ball and allowing Olivier Giroud to enter.
Giroud hit the outside of the post. Nussar Mazraoui, who also suffered an injury, will not appear for the second half. One could wonder if Morocco had caught up with the physical tension, and yet they poured even more energy into the game. Regragui changed to 4-1-4-1 without Saiss, but in both systems Morocco held the high lane and advanced. France was happy to sit, hunt for casualties, and move quickly.
Morocco had a physical fight, they captured 61% of possession and advertised an equalizer. Particularly when El Yamik landed an overhead shot in stoppage time of the first half after Giroud half cleared a corner into the bottom left corner. Hugo Lloris moved to the post to topple it. Previously, the goalkeeper had jumped the other way to push off curler Azzedine Unai while Morocco wanted a penalty when Hernandez hit Sofiane Boufal in the shins.
France should have led the score 2-0 in the 36th minute. Aurélien Chouameni found Mbappe who couldn’t finish, El Yamik shot but only to Chouameni who sent a quick pass to Giroud who was not awarded a penalty. He hit the post for the first time – a bad miss. Morocco did not want adventure, especially Ashraf Hakimi, who was in marauding uniform on the right, having successfully contacted Hakim Ziyech. Sofyan Amrabat distinguished himself before the defense.
Morocco continued to escalate the situation at an astonishing pace after the break, some of their exchanges in the final third being easy on the eyes. Substitute Yahya Attiat-Allah failed to realize a chance for a shot in a good position. He also followed behind Jules Kunde, his cross accurately knocking Konate down while he nearly eliminated substitute Zakaria Abukhlal.
Substitute Frenchman Marcus Thuram missed a clear header and then came the moment when Morocco felt their hearts beat faster, another substitute, Abderrazak Hamdallah, waltzed after Chuameny was forfeited. Hamdallah couldn’t craft the space he wanted and it slipped away.
Towards the end to kill the dream. It was Kolo Mouani who made the move from Morocco’s sloppy pass, but Mbappe ignited it, his fast feet blurry, the shot parried by substitute Abdessamad Ezzalzouli to gently break through. When Kunde knocked out Hamdallah with the last of his strength, Morocco lost the comfort they deserved.
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