After Lionel Messi and his Argentinian teammates booked their berth in Sunday’s World Cup Final, it was time to determine who would try to deny them. Before the tournament started, France were one of the favourites and Morocco had odds to win the tournament of 200 to 1. Yesterday the odds were still in France’s favour, however, the Moroccans hadn’t read the script!
Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud continued to lead the French attack, but a sickness bug hit Didier Deschamps’ plans of fielding an unchanged lineup. Central defender Ibrahima Konate and midfielder Youssouf Fofana replace Dayot Upamecano and Adrien Rabiot, who had both succumbed to illness.
(4-2-3-1, right to left): 1. Lloris (GK); 5. Kounde, 4. Varane, 24. Konate, 22. T. Hernandez; 8. Tchouameni, 13. Fofana; 11. Dembele, 7. Griezmann, 10. Mbappe; 9. Giroud
In the moments before the game was starting there was a late lineup change as West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd was forced to withdraw from the game. Achraf Dari stepped in just before kickoff. Aguerd had missed out thanks to a thigh injury that left him out of the Portugal match in the quarterfinals.
Walid Regragui decided to gamble on talismanic captain Romain Saiss, after the Besiktas star was forced off injured against Portugal. Bayern Munich full-back Noussair Mazraoui returned to the backline, having sat out the Portugal game.
(5-4-1, right to left): 1. Bono (GK); 2. Hakimi, 18. El Yamiq, 20. Dari, 6. Saiss, 3. Mazraoui; 7. Ziyech, 8. Ounahi, 4. Amrabat, 17. Boufal; 19. En-Nesyri
The match started with Morocco more than willing to apply pressure on the French and get the ball forward when they were in possession. Once again the incessant whistling from the Moroccan fans was grating but it quickly stopped when Theo Hernandez put the French into the lead after a quick attack from Griezeman, and Mbappe. It was the first goal that Morocco had conceded scored by an opponent player in the whole tournament. The goal took only four minutes. How would the Atlas Lions respond?
Morocco immediately started to get the ball forward and it was only a fine save from Hugo Lloris that denied Azzedine Ounahi. The problems continued for the Moroccans when Romain Saiss started to struggle with the injury that had caused him to leave the quarter final against Portugal. The Moroccans had been playing with five at the back and the withdrawl of Saiss and the arrival of Amrabat allowed them to switch their formation to try to gain the control of the midfield.
After a few naughty fouls from Konate it was then Theo Hernandez who was lying on the ground in his own box and Nezrawi of Morocco who ended up being the first player in the referee’s book. Morocco were struggling to get their centre forward into the match. France seemed to have taken their foot off the pedal and the Atlas Lions started to get some time on the ball. Boufal and Ziyech started to stay further forward and forced France to keep their defenders back.
It was then France who were using the long diagonal ball and counter attacking. In the 35th minute, Kylian Mbappe streaked down the left wing and had the ball cut out by a Moroccan defender attempted to clear the ball only to have it land on the foot of Giroud who screwed the ball wide of the net.
As the half ended, Morocco had a corner and it was the big Moroccan centre back Jawad El-Yamiq using a bicycle kick which struck the base of the post. The pressure continued into the one minute of injury time. A late free kick from Ziyech was whipped in and was just missed by It was the best way to end the half and set up the start of the second half.
The second half started and it was France who were clearly going for their second goal. Griezmann was instrumental in setting Mbappe on his way on two separate occasions which stretched Morocco. Mbappe, not unlike Messi, had disappeared from the game but had arrived back and was starting to be the key outlet. It was on his third foray when he was scythed down.
Morocco took advantage of Mbappe being on the sideline and almost had a tap in except for an incredible interception from Konate. Morocco continued to press and started to control the play. They repeatedly had half opportunities but the French looked like they were the more likely to score. Surprisingly, France started to sit back and let the Moroccans attack them.
Morocco had their chance of the game when Abderrazak Hamdallah made a mazy run, perhaps second-guessing himself on this huge occasion. In the end it was France who sealed the game when Mbappe sliced open the Moroccan defence and laid the ball off for Kolo Muani who scored the goal after being on the field for only 44 seconds. The play was no different than Hamdallah’s, the only difference was the fact that Muani took the shot.
Morocco refused to roll over. They pushed forward and had several chances but they were unable to break through the French resistance. Kounde blocked a shot on the line and the seconds ticked away.
Late on, the Moroccans looked tired. They had been the most resilient team in the tournament but this was definitely a bridge too far. Their determination and passion had gradually caused them to succumb to injuries which ultimately led to their elimination. The Atlas Lions had proudly carried the flag for Morocco, for Africa, for the Arab world, and should leave Qatar with full credit.
France started strong and were ahead after only four minutes. The game was effectively over at that point. They were patient and mature. They allowed Morocco to come at them but they were never in danger.
The quality of the Argentinians will be greater and the match looks like it will be one to remember. The French are looking to be the first team to retain the title for the first time since Pele and Brazil won the World Cup in 1958 and again in 1962.
Messi vs Mbappe