Brave Morocco suffer World Cup heartbreak after being edged out by France

Atlas Lions put up another heroic performance but fairytale comes to an end as holders book place in final against Argentina

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Morocco’s redoubtable resistance was finally broken, and they were beaten, but certainly not bowed.

What a team they are, even in defeat, even when France forged forward into another final, perhaps into the record books as the first country in 60 years to successfully defend a World Cup. They will keep hold of the title they all want above anything else if they beat Argentina in Sunday's final.

It wasn’t Kylian Mbappe, or Olivier Giroud, or even Antoine Griezmann that settled this semi-final at a raucous and red Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday night. But Theo Hernandez, the full-back who in all honesty deputises for his brother, and little-used substitute Randal Kolo Muani. To be fair to Hernandez, at least, he took his goal like a master marksman.

It arrived on five minutes, the first goal Morocco conceded in Qatar from an opposing player - it took only six matches, and then some – and the second 44 seconds after Kolo Muani’s introduction. With 11 minutes remaining, and 2-0 down, Morocco could not summon another Herculean effort.

Still, what they have given this tournament, given Africa and the Arab world, trailblazers for both. Their unwavering belief, the unremitting commitment to the cause, a dogged disregard for the old order. Their dancing mothers.

They have been a pleasure and a precedent; something to cherish, a reason to rally behind and to rail against the role of underdog, any sense of not belonging. They still have third place to play for, against Croatia on Saturday, mind.

When all is said and done, the dust settled in Doha after a World Cup full of the extraordinary, what an accomplishment that would be. What an accomplishment it already is.

Remember, they were hamstrung here by Nayef Aguerd’s withdrawal before kick-off, captain Romain Saiss’ substitution 20 minutes in, even Noussair Mazraoui’s inability to return for the second half. Three quarters of the previously impregnable defence.

Argentina crush Croatia

The same, though, can be said of France. They have rendered redundant injuries to a raft of key men – N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema, Presnel Kimpembe, latterly Lucas Hernandez – to possibly cling to their mantle. Minus their core, and of course maintained by Mbappe’s ridiculous excellence, France have for the most part displayed a swagger that only champions generally do.

They will, though, breathe a hefty sigh of relief after seeing off Morocco. Stung early, Walid Regragui’s men rallied and rebounded. They tested Hugo Lloris, France’s World Cup-winning captain; they struck the woodwork with an audacious overhead kick. They piled on the pressure, pinned back the holders and, almost, made heroes of themselves once more.

If only Griezmann wasn’t set free down the inside right, that he didn’t cut back the ball to Mbappe and, while his effort was blocked, it did not deflect invitingly into Hernandez’s path.

The left-back, playing only because older sibling Lucas was injured in the opener against Australia, took it superbly, firing home an acrobatic volley.

Coming on four minutes and 39 seconds, it marked the tournament’s fastest semi-final goal since Brazil against the French, in 1958.

But, just as you worried for Morocco, how they would handle a first setback, they fought back again. Azzedine Ounahi tested Lloris from range, Hakim Ziyech screwed wide when well placed. Right before half-time, a combination of the post and Lloris’ fingertips denied defender Jawad El Yamiq’s fantastic overhead kick. After the interval, Ibrahima Konate denied Youssef El-Nesyri a simple tap-in.

That’s not to say France didn’t have their chances. Giroud rattled the upright also, midway through the first half. Later, France’s recently anointed all-time leading scorer curled off target after Mbappe had raced through.

Late on, they sealed it. Mbappe twisted inside and out and, although his shot was repelled, it fell in front of Kolo Muani for the easiest of finishes.

France fight on. Having extinguished one of the great tournament storylines, they set scope on another on Sunday. To Lionel Messi and Argentina they go.

Updated: December 15, 2022, 11:18 AM