On Sunday, Argentina and France will square off in the World Cup final, with the winner taking home a third championship. France defeated Morocco thanks to goals from Theo Hernandez in the fifth and Randal Kolo Muani in the 79th minute.
Oh, that wasn’t that simple. There were tears in the crowd and on the field at Al Bayt when Morocco knelt for prayer following the match, but the team received a send-off worthy of people who had this time made history for Africa. Morocco scored first, but there were other opportunities for them to steal a goal and force an intense semifinal. Achraf Hakimi and Kylian Mbappe, friends and PSG teammates, embraced after the game, and Olivier Giroud hugged Walid Regragui, the Morocco coach. Like Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Canada, Morocco had earned the esteem of France.
Regragui’s team was down a game for the first time in this tournament. Gerd Muller’s goal in the 1974 championship game reminded many people of Hernandez’s acrobatic side volley that gave France the lead in the fifth minute. France left defender turned to the side and made a good connection with a high-bouncing ball. It was a great goal from a player who wouldn’t have taken the field if his brother Lucas hadn’t been hurt in the opening game.
A side in Doha whose defence has been the closest to perfect made a mistake that led to the goal. With Antoine Griezmann on his shoulder and attempting to peel off, Jawad El Yamiq attempted an interception after Raphael Varane tried to break the lines with a grounder. Though Griezmann connected with Kylian Mbappe after he missed, the France attacker was twice turned away. Hernandez’s arrival went unnoticed in the subsequent chaos.
The response came from Morocco in a form neither Spain nor Portugal had ever seen. largely by design, but also in part by default. Roman Saiss pulled up hurt; the captain had been making it through extra time versus Spain while in agony. The first-choice center-backs were unavailable for the biggest game in Moroccan history since Nayef Aguard withdrew due to an injury sustained during warm-up and Saiss’ departure.
It required switching to a back four with Sofyan Amrabat in the lead position. Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal had to stay upfield as well. Even if Morocco were to lose, they wouldn’t do it without making France suffer.
Hugo Lloris saved them from tying the score in the first half, which Morocco won despite having more possession of the ball, making more passes, and attempting more shots on goal. The France captain wasn’t tested by Hakim Ziyach, but Azz-Edine Ounahi was by a furious, accurate, and low drive in the 11th minute. To intervene, Lloris flew to his right. Near halftime, the France captain had to move to the opposing side to divert El Yamiq’s scissors kick into the upright. That shot had followed a corner kick that Ibrahima Konate had untimely intercepted.
Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot were both unavailable, which led France to play Wesley Foffana in midfield. Konate made a number of superb interceptions in his penalty area. Abderrazzak Hamdallah delayed shooting and was taken out of the game in the 76th minute. Griezmann, who had a good night again, twice cleared the ball in time to preserve France.
Although the world champions were in the lead, the match was far from finished. If Olivier Giroud hadn’t bumped into the goalpost and missed with a volley, it would have been. Giroud was able to score in the first due to Saiss’ inability to intercept a long ball from behind, and France retaliated in the second due to Aurelien Tchouameni’s theft and subsequent threading of a pass that Kylian Mbappe eventually reached but El Yamiq had blocked. Although France couldn’t take advantage of the space that Morocco was leaving, the threat was always present.
The insurance goal was achieved not because Morocco advanced but rather because it sank too low. This allowed France to keep possession of the ball and find Mbappe, who kept Morocco occupied on the left side of the penalty area along with Marcus Thurram. Mbappe found Randal Kolo Muani despite being surrounded by three players, albeit with a deflection that was sufficient to catch Yahiya Attiayat Allah off guard. The story came to an end.
More chaotic moments occurred in front of France’s goal, but the reigning champs managed to hold on. Since Brazil in 1998, France is the first team to have a defending champion advance to the final. They need one more victory to win the championship for the second time since 1962 and the first time with the same coach since Vittorio Pozzo in 1938.