France broke the resistance of Morocco in the semi-finals of the football world championship. The current world champions twice upset the team of Walid Regraga, who had previously missed the tournament in Qatar only once. On both occasions, Theo Hernandez and Randal Colo Muani finished off the ball after Kylian Mbappé’s shots were deflected by the defenders. At the same time, the Eintracht striker scored 44 seconds after coming on as a substitute.
The second semi-final of the World Cup in Qatar was presented as a collision of irresistible force with a stationary object. The current world champion and one of the brightest teams of the tournament met with the main sensation of the competition, which has an impenetrable defense. In five matches, Morocco conceded only once (and even then from its own player), and in the playoffs it never allowed Yassin Bono to hit the gate. But in order to be the first of the African teams to reach the decisive round, they had to hold back the stellar attack of France, led by Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, who once again reminded of his incredible skill.
After a couple of disastrous seasons at Barcelona and a not-so-successful return to Atlético, many were quick to put an end to Griezmann as a top footballer. However, in Qatar, he again appeared in excellent shape and earned praise not only from experts, but also from the head coach. Not without reason, on the eve of the semi-finals, the authoritative Goal portal named him among the three most valuable players in the World Cup, and put only the same Mbappe and Lionel Messi above. And this is taking into account the fact that Antoine did not have a single goal scored in his assets, and in assists he shared the first line with three competitors.
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But if Didier Deschamps did not have to worry about the state of his leaders, then everything was not so smooth with other wards. So, the mentor had to solve the problem of the absence of Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot, who until now have been at the base in all matches of the tournament, except for the unimportant meeting with Tunisia. The day before, both missed training due to a cold and never recovered. As a result, Ibrahima Konate came out in the center of the defense, and Yussuf Fofana in the support zone.
But Walid Regragi could count on almost all of his key performers in defense. By the semi-final, Nussair Mazraoui and Romain Ses recovered from injuries, which allowed the specialist not only to put up an almost strongest line-up, but also to surprise his opponents. For the first time at the World Cup, the Moroccans switched to a scheme with three central defenders, which meant one thing: the main task is to withstand the pressure of the favorites and not concede – and come what may.
They managed to hold out for 4 minutes 39 seconds, and neither the trio of central defenders, nor Ashraf Hakimi and Sofyan Amrabat, who were playing in the penalty area, saved the Africans from a missed goal. A superb slicing pass from Raphael Varane sent Griezmann into the box and although Mbappe’s shot was blocked, the attack continued. The ball ricocheted to the left edge of the goalkeeper’s area, where Theo Hernandez hammered it into the net and hit the Moroccan goal at the World Cup first. Before that, only his compatriot Naif Ager managed to take Bono by surprise.
This event was enough reason to change the strategy and switch to a more attacking model. And although already in the 21st minute Regragi returned to his favorite 4-1-4-1 scheme, this measure was forced. Ses again felt pain in his thigh and had to give way to midfielder Selim Amalla.
Not to say that this had a positive effect on Morocco’s offensive performance. France had an overwhelming advantage and repeatedly opened up the enemy’s defenses. Moreover, it was not Mbappe who looked the most active, but Griezmann, who more than once opened superbly in the zone of the right half-flank. But if the Africans did little from the game, then from the standards they created enormous difficulties for the opponents. At the end of the half, a miracle could have been created by one of the perpetrators of the missed goal, but after an overhead shot by Javad El-Yamik, the ball hit the post. A minute later, Sofyan Bufal was on the lookout for a rebound outside the penalty area and almost hit Hugo Lloris.
During the first half, there was practically no reason to talk about the most anticipated duel, in which the partners in Paris Saint-Germain, Mbappe and Hakimi, competed with each other. The Frenchman often moved to the center and found himself against the central defenders, while the Moroccan had to hold back Hernandez. But already in the debut of the second half, Kilian and Ashraf clashed twice, and in one of the episodes, the leader of the “blue” almost earned a penalty. His dash into the penalty area ended in a fall, but the referee did not penalize his teammate for minimal contact. Much more controversy was caused by Amrabat’s cruel tackle, after which Mbappe could not get up from the lawn for a long time.
Even at the end of the half, the advantage of Morocco was striking both in possession (57% – 43%) and in assists (276:206). But if in the first 45 minutes Regraga’s wards mostly controlled the ball in their own half, then after the break they did it in someone else’s. And at times the French had great difficulty withstanding the pressure. Varan at the last moment interrupted the cross on Yousef En-Nesiri, and sometimes Griezmann himself acted as a libero.
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But in parallel with the pressure from Morocco, the number of controversial decisions by the chief arbiter also increased. Perhaps Cesar Arturo Ramos did not want to arrange the distribution of yellow cards, but with a difference of several minutes, he immediately forgave the players several times for rather hard fouls. And it is noteworthy that in all cases the perpetrators were Moroccans. First, Mbappe stepped on his foot and tore the laces with spikes, and then, in violation of the rules, the breakthroughs of Marcus Thuram, who replaced Olivier Giroud, and the same Griezmann, were interrupted.
But even this did not stop France from scoring a second goal and strengthening their superiority. At the 79th minute, Randal Kolo Muani appeared on the field and after 44 seconds lit his name on the scoreboard. Like Hernandez, the Eintracht forward played the rebound after Mbappé’s strike and scored for the first time for the national team.
Morocco, on the other hand, could not force Lloris to capitulate, although sometimes the ball had nowhere to go. Already in injury time, Jules Kundet stopped him half a meter from the ribbon and helped the tricolors for the first time in the tournament to leave their gates intact. France gained the upper hand with great difficulty and came close to repeating the rarest achievement. Previously, only Italy and Brazil managed to win the World Cup twice in a row.