Defending champions France ended Morocco’s 2022 World Cup dream on Wednesday thanks to a 2-0 victory at Al Bayt Stadium.
Theo Hernández struck in the fifth minute with an acrobatic finish, with substitute Randal Kolo Muani scoring a late home strike 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 coming close to France before Kolo Muani’s decisive goal.
France are the first reigning World Cup champions to reach the final in two decades. Lionel Messi and Argentina now look on as France look to win back-to-back World Cup titles.
“Here we go again. It’s just an incredible feeling,” France captain Hugo Lloris said later, according to FIFA. “We suffered a lot, especially in the second half. We played too deep and they proved that they are not a team focused only on defense. They know how to attack. They deserve a lot of credit for this World Cup.
“Now the last step, the most difficult.”
It appeared that this semi-final was being played in Rabat or Casablanca rather than Al Khor, such was the support for Morocco.
The Moroccan players were cheered like heroes every time they touched the ball, while their French counterparts were booed and booed.
Not that France were fazed by the uproarious support for Morocco at the Al Bayt Stadium and it didn’t take long for Didier Deschamps’ side to gain control of the game.
Antoine Griezmann – so brilliant in the quarter-final win against England – took advantage of a tackle from defender Jawad El Yamiq to burst into the Morocco box, before crossing towards Kylian Mbappé.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward, twisting and turning in the box, had two shots on target blocked by desperate defenders, but the ball ended up in Hernández, who finished acrobatically to give France an early lead.
Surprisingly, it was the first goal Morocco have conceded from an opposing player at the tournament and the first time the team have been behind at Qatar 2022.
However, Morocco were not flummoxed and minutes later Azzedine Ounahi got a fine save from Hugo Lloris as the Atlas Lions surged into the match.
Olivier Giroud, who is the second goalscorer of the tournament behind Mbappé and Messi, missed two glorious opportunities for France to extend their lead.
First, his shot went off the post on its way to the Morocco goal, before the AC Milan forward curled just wide shortly after Mbappé was cleared by Yassine Bounou.
Morocco’s response was a brilliant overhead kick from El Yamiq, who went wide of the corner of the post, inches away from giving his country a path back into the semi-finals.
After the break, traffic was one-way, with Morocco pressing for an equalizer.
Countless times Morocoo played against a struggling French defense but between an incorrect touch or a last touch from a defender, the Atlas Lions could not find an equaliser.
Morocco pushed and pushed but was unsuccessful, and then Kolo Muani – seconds after coming on as a substitute – landed a deflected shot to get 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 forward scored 44 seconds after coming on, according to Opta.
The goal seemingly took the breath away from the Moroccan fans at Al Bayt Stadium, even as they continued to look for a miracle to get back into the match.
Having captured the hearts and minds of the footballing world, it was a sad end to Morocco’s aspirations. But after giving defending champions France a hard time, Morocco departed the competition knowing they had achieved more than just success on the pitch.
For France, a mouthwatering final against Argentina at the Lusail Stadium on Sunday will see Mbappé take on his PSG team-mate Messi as the two nations clash to decide the 2022 world champion.
Argentina is chasing a third title while The Blues are attempting to become the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil managed the feat 60 years ago.
A World Cup winner with France as a player in 1998 and as Les Bleus’ manager in 2018, Deschamp has said he wants his players to savor their successes at Qatar 2022.
“Obviously this was an important match. There will be one last one,” said Deschamps, for FIFA. “We’ve been together with the players for a month. It’s never easy.
“But it has been such a joy so far, and that my players, the group has been rewarded for this success. Sunday we will aim for the title.
“We will take the time. I say this to my staff and players: ‘Take every moment of the day to truly appreciate and savor the moment.’ In four days we will play for a world title. Now let’s enjoy it and get ready for the last match of this World Cup.”