Any promoter would take it and smile, while the world can start three idle days complaining with the utmost expectation. This is after France spent their semi-final in a 2-0 draw against Morocco, the admirable darlings of this World Cup, meaning he will arrive on Sunday and bring Lionel Messi, the 35-year-old Argentine star whose jerseys appear on children and teenagers all over Planet Earth, against Kylian Mbappé, the 23-year-old French star whose jerseys have started appearing on children and teenagers all over Planet Earth.
As a bonus, the match will include a slew of other players with insane abilities.
“Any team with Messi is a totally different proposition,” said 31-year-old French forward Antoine Griezmann, while any team with Mbappé is… a totally different proposition.
Group of the World Cup and calendar of the round of 16
France – the beauty of its football often matches the beauty of its streets, parks, wine, art, architecture, countryside, coast, language and other things – did something all other elite teams found impossible against Morocco in this World Cup: he scored. He scored a crack in the fifth minute and then in the 79th, with the former becoming the first bruise Morocco had allowed in all tournaments other than a stray own goal awarded to Canada, resulting in the first deficit of the entire World Cup for the first African and first Arab Semifinalist.
“If I have one regret after this match,” said Walid Regragui, Morocco’s new and established manager, “it’s the start of the match; we conceded a goal very quickly and that gave France confidence and allowed them to have good form.”
France took this lead to a milestone, becoming the first defending champions to make the arduous return journey to a subsequent World Cup final since Brazil in 1998, and only the fifth since the global insanity began in 1998. 1930. He will try to become the first defending champion to repeat since Brazil in 1962, when Pelé, Garrincha, Vavá, Zito and Amarildo were the one-word Brazilian names that unleashed the joy of the fans and hell in the defences.
Who the hell could unlock the Moroccan Fort Knox defence, which has become so admirable in this event as it has played its first five games and the start of a sixth without conceding a goal, unless you count the own goal that deflected a lunge of the Moroccan boot right? Who could score over Morocco in front of its fans, who had become so admired at this event, that they dominated the 68,294 at Al Bayt stadium and who had completed another thrilling rendition of ‘Cherifian Anthem’, that national anthem constructed by a Moroccan author (lyrics) and French military officer (music)?
For Morocco, a World Cup race that transcends sport
France could. Of course France could, even if she had some help from fate, as if she required it.
The first Nayef Aguerd, part of the starting back four who had given so much strength to Morocco’s well-deserved run during this tournament, was unable to leave due to a little flu circulating around here (and which also affected some players French). Then Romain Saiss, the 32-year-old captain and defender, ran with a limp that cried out the persistence of the injury which ended his quarter-final on a stretcher in the 57th minute.
Regragui replaced Saiss in the 21st minute – “such an important player for us,” he said – but by then a little carnival of things had already happened.
France navigated this World Cup with their notable injuries, and were missing two normal starters on Wednesday night for various reasons, but in that fifth minute they began to feel good again as they turned the ball over from the left edge of the field towards the right near the midfield, towards Raphael Varane, the longtime defender. Varane made a splendid pass upfield to longtime striker Griezmann, who in one movement cleared past a desperate Jawad El Yamiq and continued on down the right.
He looked threatening to any defence, and when Griezmann crossed towards Mbappé, he looked more threatening to any defence. Several Moroccans surrounded Mbappé, causing a deflection who sprinted quickly left to chase another shot and deflection.
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Yet his sheer presence mattered as it always does, because when that deflection swung to the left, he found defender Theo Hernández, Hernández found himself pretty much alone down there with Yassine Bounou, or Bono, the 31-year-old Moroccan goalkeeper and star of this event . Then Hernández, a 25-year-old defender who probably hasn’t convinced many bets to score in casinos around the world, did something acrobatically good.
Presented with a ball that bounced once and bounced high, he lifted and twisted so that his left boot that extended parallel to the ground could propel the ball past Bono. As the ball bounced down and then in and the French went to cheer for a corner, two Moroccan players stood in goal confused as if the sight of a goal against them seemed strange.
Morocco, to their added credit plus all the credit they’ve earned here, has dealt with the situation by playing the game like someone who found themselves belonging here. They got a tremendous 25-yard strike in the ninth minute from Azzedine Ounahi, such a revelation in this World Cup, that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to dive wide left to counter. They received a 45th-minute bicycle kick from El Yamiq who arced towards the left post and gave the stadium a jolt that could have lasted until Sunday had he scored. And they spent parts of the second half, both in the beginning and in the end, creating surprising and even sensational possibilities that he could not quite convert.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t clinical in the last third,” said Regragui, identifying in the match “the little details that help true champions win.”
“Morocco impressed me tonight,” said Griezmann.
“It was not an easy victory,” said French coach Didier Deschamps, who has already won the World Cup as a player (1998) and as a coach (2018), “and we demonstrated our quality, experience and our team spirit. “
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They did all of the above and held on, even when their defense had to put out fires both small and large. They eventually overcame the back-and-forth of the match in the 79th minute, finding something their ability made them destined to find. Mbappé had a large role in this too, with a mind-boggling zigzag through three defenders in the top left corner of the box, after which he blasted one through a defender’s heel to Randal Kolo Muani, who had just appeared in replacement with just enough time to start breaking a sweat.
Kolo Muani, just 24, knocked the gimme, and France would send out an opponent who had grown all grown up and difficult to fend off. That opponent will leave with one last boom of appreciative applause, and the World Cup will proceed into a Sunday for which any World Cup would be grateful.
World Cup in Qatar
The last one: France will face Argentina in the World Cup final after eliminating Morocco, 2-0, in the semi-final on Wednesday in Khor, Qatar. Les Bleus will face Lionel Messi and Argentina on Sunday at 10:00 Eastern for the world championship. Morocco will face Croatia in the third-place match on Saturday.
The Treasure of the World Cup: Morocco had an amazing run at the World Cup, beating several European powers: Belgium, Spain and now Portugal. His success sparked pride and rare unity across the Arab world, evoking, for some, an earlier era of pan-Arab nationalism.
Today’s world view: Off the pitch, the World Cup was the scene of a rancorous contest between a moralizing West and increasingly outraged Qatari hosts and their Arab brethren.
Ben+Be: They have trained their entire career to perform at World Cups, building stamina, strength and agility and developing the mental toughness to handle the pressures of the game. It’s not easy being an elite soccer referee.