Defending champions France end Morocco’s dream of Qatar 2022 and reach fourth World Cup final



CNN

Holders France ended Morocco’s 2022 World Cup dream with a 2-0 win at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.

Theo Hernández struck in the fifth minute with an acrobatic finish while substitute Randal Kolo Muani took a late lead as France reached their fourth World Cup final just four years after winning in Russia.

But Morocco, the first African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, can go home with their heads held high after narrowly overtaking France before Kolo Muani’s decisive goal.

France are the first reigning world champions to reach the final in two decades. Lionel Messi and Argentina are now waiting for France to try to win back-to-back world titles.

“Now it’s starting again. It’s just an incredible feeling,” France captain Hugo Lloris said afterwards, according to FIFA. “We suffered a lot, especially in the second half. We played too deep and they showed that they could not just focus on defense. They know how to attack. They deserve a lot of credit for this World Cup.

“Now the last step, the most difficult.”

Kolo Muani celebrates with team mates after scoring France's second goal against Morocco.

It felt like this semi-final was going to be played in Rabat or Casablanca rather than Al Khor, such was the support for Morocco.

Moroccan players were hailed like heroes at every touch, while their French counterparts were booed and hissed at.

Not that France were unnerved by the vociferous support from Morocco at the Al Bayt stadium, and it wasn’t long before Didier Deschamps’ men were in control of the game.

Antoine Griezmann – so brilliant in the quarter-final win over England – used a slip by defender Jawad El Yamiq to enter the Moroccan box before crossing to Kylian Mbappé.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker, spinning and spinning in the box, was blocked twice on goal by desperate defenders, but the ball turned to Hernández, who used an acrobatic finish to give France an early advantage.

Remarkably, it was the first goal Morocco had conceded from an opposing player at the tournament and the first time the side had fallen behind at Qatar 2022.

Morocco were not stunned however and minutes later Azzedine Ounahi pulled off a lovely save from Hugo Lloris as the Atlas Lions grew into the game.

Olivier Giroud, who is the tournament’s second goalscorer behind Mbappé and Messi, missed two glorious opportunities for France to extend their lead.

First, his shot ricocheted off the post as he headed for the Moroccan goal before the AC Milan striker turned just wide just after Mbappé’s save from Yassine Bounou.

Morocco’s counterattack was a brilliant overhead kick from El Yamiq, which bounced just around the corner of the post, just inches from sending his country back to the semis.

El Yamiq tries an overhead kick that goes off the French post.

After the break it was one-way traffic, Morocco pushed for the equalizer.

Countless times, Morocoo played around a battered French defense, but the Atlas Lions couldn’t find an equalizer between a faulty touch or a last touch from a defender.

Morocco pushed and pushed, but to no avail, and then Kolo Muani struck a deflected shot just seconds after coming on as a substitute to score his first international goal and confirm France’s place in Sunday’s final.

Kolo Muani’s goal was the third-fastest goal by a substitute in World Cup history, the Eintracht Frankfurt striker scoring 44 seconds after coming on, according to Opta.

The goal seemed to smother the Moroccan fans at Al Bayt Stadium, although it continued to look for a miracle in the game.

Having captured the hearts and minds of the footballing world, it was a sad end to Morocco’s aspirations. But with reigning champions France struggling for their money, Morocco are exiting the competition knowing they have achieved more than just success on the pitch.

Moroccan players look desperate after conceding a goal against France.

For France, Mbappé will face PSG teammate Messi in a delicious final against Argentina at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday as the two nations go head-to-head to decide the 2022 world champions.

Argentina is chasing a third title while Les Bleus is attempting to become the first team to win the World Cup since Brazil achieved the feat 60 years ago.

A world champion with France as a player in 1998 and as Les Bleus Manager in 2018, Deschamp said he would like his players to savor their performances at Qatar 2022.

“It was obviously an important game. There will be one last one,” Deschamps said, according to FIFA. “We have been with the players for a month. It’s never easy.

“But it’s been such a joy so far and that my players, the group, have been compensated for that success. On Sunday it’s all about the title.

“We’ll take our time. That’s what I say to my staff and players: “Take every moment of the day to really appreciate and enjoy it.” In four days we’re playing for a world title. We’re going to enjoy it now and get ready for the last game of this World Cup.”

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