Reigning world champions France scored once in each half to overcome a spirited challenge of Morocco on Wednesday night at Al Bayt Stadium to set up a FIFA World Cup final showdown with Argentina on Sunday.
The Les Bleus took the lead through Theo Hernandez’s scrambled fifth minute goal. Randal Kolo Muani wrapped up matters in the 79th, less than a minute after coming on, after a fine solo from Kylian Mbappe.
France ended the fairytale run of the Atlas Lions in the tournament, with Dider Deschamps side bidding to become the first team in 60 years to win back-to-back titles. Only Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 have clinched back-to-back titles.
France is the sixth nation to reach successive World Cup finals, the others being Italy (1934, 1938), Brazil (twice: 1958, 1962 and 1994, 1998, 2002), the Netherlands (1974, 1978), West Germany (1982, 1986, 1990) and Argentina (1986, 1990).
Should France win, Didier Deschamps – who was a player when France won their first title in 1998 – will join Italy’s Vittorio Pozzo as the only coach to win two World Cups in a row.
The 1978 and 1986 champions Argentina beat 2018 runners-up Croatia 3-0 in the first semi-final on Tuesday and Lionel Messi now hopes for the trophy in his fifth and final attempt in what will be a big duel with his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Mbappe.
France beat Argentina 4-3 in the last 16 en route to the 2018 title, after losing the first two World Cup dates between the two in 1930 and 1978.
Morocco and Croatia will play for third place on Saturday.
On Wednesday night Morocco, backed by their legion of supporters, who outnumbered France, were pushed all the way by World Cup wildcards. The scoreline belies their performance and how close the game was.
The first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final refused to buckle despite suffering the early blows of losing key defender Nayef Aguerd to injury after he was named in the starting line-up, and then an early goal.
France’s key player continued to be Antoine Griezmann’s and his reinvention as a playmaker has been a hot topic of the World Cup. His sharp movements create space for others to run into and also ensure he’s always available to receive the ball. France’s player of the tournament without any doubt.
Mbappe’s shot from near the penalty box was blocked but the deflection fell to Hernandez at the far post, who acrobatically lashed the ball home to net in a scrappy goal, 1-0.
The reigning world champions threatened on several occasions to extend their lead, but Morocco managed to pose problems too, particularly in an excellent period just before the interval, which saw the Atlas Lions create a string of goal-scoring opportunities.
Morocco responded well to the early goal and had France on the ropes in the early part of the second half. They were competitive and didn’t shy away from playing their game against the defending champions.
It was left to the brilliance of Mbappe to break open the Morocco defense for the second time in the match.
Mbappe remarkably weaved his way past a clutter of legs in the box and gets a shot away, but it’s blocked. The deflection falls to Kolo Muani, who taps in from close range with his first touch of the game, 2-0.
France have rarely stepped out of second gear in this World Cup. Barring certain periods like in Wednesday’s match and in the quarterfinal against England – they’ve rarely had to dig deep in games. Despite being wrecked by injuries; they’ve continued to march on.
The final thus will be showdown between Mbappe and Messi, a match within a match.
‘Argentina will be really hard in the World Cup final’: French keeper Lloris
France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris said he expect a difficult World Cup final when his side takes on Argentina on Sunday.
While Lionel Messi is looking to lift his first World Cup, France are looking to retain the title they won in 2018 in what promises to be a tough game for both sides, Xinhua news agency reported.
“Argentina are a really great team. They have shown how competitive they are, and they have this player (Messi) who has left his mark on the sport,” said Lloris after Wednesday’s 2-0 semifinal win over Morocco.
“There is everything in place for it to be a great game, but we will try to turn things our way,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency.
The keeper reflected on a tough semifinal in which France were forced to defend for long periods after Theo Hernandez’s fifth-minute opener and were even deep in their box after Kolo Muani netted a second goal in the 79th minute.
“We really suffered, and we are tired but satisfied because we have given ourselves a golden opportunity to make history for France. A second final in four years, so even everything wasn’t perfect, from tomorrow we have to start our recovery,” Lloris said.
Meanwhile, midfielder Youssouf Fofana admitted his had “not been easy,” to replace Adrien Rabiot in the side after Rabiot came down with a virus.
“He has been great since the start to the World Cup and it’s hard to reach his level, but the team helped me and it worked out pretty well for us,” commented Fofana.
Deschamps, Griezmann and Macron celebrate French qualification for final
France coach Didier Deschamps praised his players after a 2-0 win over Morocco in the second World Cup semifinal booked them a place in Sunday’s final.
France will play Argentina, looking to become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to win consecutive World Cups.
“There’s emotion, there’s pride, there’s going to be a final step,” said Deschamps on French TV after the final whistle.
The coach admitted that it had been a difficult game against Morocco, who had over 60 percent of the ball, news agency Xinhua reported.
“We have been together with the players for a month and it’s never easy, but there’s happiness so far,” he said.
Man-of-the-Match, Antoine Griezmann said he was “already thinking about Sunday’s final” against Argentina,
“We will have to be focused, recover well and prepare for Sunday’s match,” he added, before praising Lionel Messi.
“When a team has Leo with them, it’s completely different. We have seen almost all their (Argentina’s) matches, we know how they play. They are a very difficult team and they are in a good place.
“They are a group that gets on well with each other like us and they will have their supporters with them,” commented Griezmann.
The forward also had praise for Morocco. “They impressed me, they worked very well tactically, defensively and offensively. They gave us a lot of problems,” he concluded.
French President Emmanuel Macron watched the match from the stands and celebrated France’s win.
“Our compatriots need simple and pure joy, sport provides it and soccer in particular. We suffered a lot but we saw a great team. A huge thank you to our coach and to this team which is in fact a mixture of several generations and that is what is great,” commented Macron.
Coach Regragui admits injuries hurt Morocco’s semifinal chances against France
Morocco coach Walid Regragui was a proud man after a 2-0 defeat to France in the semifinals ended his side’s hopes of a first-ever World Cup final for an African nation and he also lamented the injury misfortune that dogged his team in the game.
Regragui had named Romain Saiss and Naif Aguerd in his starting line-up, only for Saiss to leave the pitch after just 20 minutes, while Aguard was forced to withdraw after his muscle problem returned in the pre-game warmup.
“We lost Aguerd in the warm-up, Saiss and then (Noussair) Mazraoui at half-time. It was a bit too much for us but those who returned gave their all,” he said after the game.
The coach admitted that “against a team like France, the slightest mistake is expensive, and we can’t go to the final when we waste as many chances as we had in the first half”.
“We were better in the second half, but we didn’t score, and the second goal (in the 79th minute) kills us,” said Regragui.
Morocco will now play Croatia in the third and fourth place play-off and he admitted he would give a chance to players who have not been regulars in his side.
“It’s going to be hard mentally, we’re going to give playing time to those who have played less,” commented the coach.
Regragui insisted Morocco “wanted” third place, but said, “most important thing is to have performed well, to have shown that football in Morocco exists and that we have great supporters.”
Theo Hernandez remembers injured brother Lucas as France reach final
France left-back Theo Hernandez was one of his country’s heroes as the French national side beat Morocco 2-0 in their semifinal to book a meeting against Argentina in Sunday’s final.
The defender, who gave away a penalty against England in Saturday’s quarterfinal, on Wednesday night, put France ahead in just the fifth minute with a left-foot volley at the far post.
France now have the chance to become the first side since Brazil to win consecutive World Cups.
“It’s incredible. Playing two finals in a row is incredible,” said Hernandez.
“We did a great job, it was tough,” he said of a game where Morocco had France on the back foot for long periods, before looking ahead to Sunday.
“The final against Argentina, we know it’s going to be a great match, we’re going to work hard to win this final,” he said.
The defender also had words for his brother Lucas, who had to abandon the World Cup after breaking a knee ligament just nine minutes into France’s first group match against Australia.
“I am really thinking about my brother, I hope he will be there. It’s incredible, I’m going to enjoy it with my family, all the players, and the coach too,” he concluded.