France fight off Atlas Lions to book date with World Cup history

France set up a blockbuster clash with Argentina in the 2022 FIFA World Cup (WC) final as they fought off a spirited Morocco side to win their semi-final clash. Didier Deschamps’ men continued their quest to become the first side to retain the WC since Brazil in 1962 by ending the Atlas Lions’ sensational run to the final four.

The defending champions raced into an early lead, edging ahead inside the opening five minutes. Antoine Griezmann spun in behind the eager Jawad El Yamiq which opened space in the Moroccan backline. Kylian Mbappé then saw his shot blocked by Achraf Dari, with the eventual rebound dropping to Theo Hernández at the back post who showed tremendous composure to wait for the ball to drop before bundling home. Remarkably, the AC Milan full-back is the first player to score against the Atlas Lions in their last 10 internationals.

Morocco were now faced with the task of coming from behind, something they’ve not had to do at these finals, although the ever-impressive Azzedine Ounahi tested Hugo Lloris as the African side looked for an instant response. As they pressed forward though, opportunities were opening up on the counter for France and Olivier Giroud capitalised to spin in behind Romain Saïss before smashing an effort against the post. Now his country’s all-time leading goalscorer, Giroud was uncharacteristically wasteful before the interval, as he squandered another huge chance to double the French lead from close range.

With captain Saïss forced off through injury, Morocco were looking increasingly ragged as HT approached with spaces opening up, but El Yamiq nearly provided a moment of inspiration at the other end as his audacious bicycle kick struck the post. A matter of inches separated Walid Regragui’s men from going in level, but they’d need another improvement after the break, as France had never lost a WC match when leading at halfway.

Deschamps’ men had failed to keep a single clean sheet in the tournament heading into the semi-finals, but their last-ditch defending was proving effective enough to prevent Lloris being called into action as Moroccan pressure became relentless. France had effectively been playing the role of the away side all night long, as Morocco continued to be backed by the vast majority of supporters inside the Al Bayt Stadium. The feverish support was finally silenced with a little more than 10 minutes of normal time remaining as the French doubled their lead. Mbappé’s shot deflected straight into the path of Randal Kolo Muani, who tapped home at the back post with his first touch within a minute of being introduced to score his first international goal.

Morocco fought until the end, with Abderrazak Hamdallah seeing a late effort blocked on the line by Jules Koundé, but they succumbed to a French team full of big-game experience. They aim to retain their crown as they face Argentina, who they beat en route to glory in the 2018 edition, while Morocco meet Croatia in the third place play-off.

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