France beat Morocco to set the odds at back-to-back World Cups
AL KHOR, Qatar – France are on their way to a second successive World Cup final after goals from Theo Hernandez and substitute Randal Kolo Muani gave Blues lessons 2-0 win over Morocco at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.
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Hernandez volleyed past Yassine Bounou with just five minutes played, and despite a spirited and challenging display by Morocco, they could not find a way out and conceded another goal 11 minutes from time as Kolo Muani scored after good work from Kylian Mbappe. France will face Argentina at the Lusail Stadium in Sunday’s final.
JUMP TO: Player rankings | Best/worst performance | Highlights and key moments | Post-match quotes | Key statistics | Upcoming fixtures
1. France rule the odds for back-to-back World Cups
Only Brazil in 1962 and Italy in 1938 ever successfully defended the World Cup, but France could join that illustrious group after reaching the final with a 2-0 win over Morocco. Much like against England in the quarter-finals, Didier Descamps’ side were at times lucky and solid rather than stylish, relying on some tenacious and at times desperate defending to ward off a Morocco side battered by their relentless crowd.
France, watched here by President Emmanuel Macron, were functional in their win in Russia four years ago and an early goal allowed them to sit back here, although Morocco gave them few threats before Kolo Muani’s late goal. It’s hard to argue with Deschamps’ result, however, as France have now qualified for three finals in their last four major tournaments. The last team to reach successive finals were Brazil in 1994, 1998 and 2002.
2. Injuries weakened Morocco’s steadfast defense
Neither player had scored against Morocco in this final prior to Wednesday, with the only goal they had conceded coming via Nayef Aguerd’s own goal in their group stage win over Canada. Aguerd (groin) is one of four players whose fitness is doubtful coming into the game but coach Walid Reragui named the four starting lineup including Romain Saiss (thigh), Sofyan Amrabat (back) and Noussair Mazraoui (illness). However, Aguerd did not warm up, forcing Morocco into a substitution with Achraf Dari coming on, while Saiss lasted just 21 minutes before being forced off through injury.
Perhaps a late shake-up contributed to Hernandez’s opener, with Antoine Griezmann finding space following a failed Jawad El Yamiq interception to help create the breakthrough. Morocco was a persistent threat going forward, and in fairness to Amrabat, he won the ball back five times in the opening 15 minutes alone. France sat back and Morocco were willing to make runs, finishing with 61% possession, but they were more open at the back than at any other point in the tournament.
Finally, France was able to defeat them. Mbappe had a quiet night but one of his signature runs ended with a fortuitous shot saved by Kolo Muani to end the game.
2. Hernandez’s rollercoaster tournament continues
He started the tournament on the bench. He signed on following an injury to his older brother, Lucas Hernandez. He nearly cost France their quarter-final win over England by conceding an unnecessary penalty that Harry Kane took over the bar. And now he has brought France to the final.
It’s never quiet when Theo Hernandez is concerned. His goal, a well executed volley after just four minutes and 39 seconds, was the fastest in a World Cup semifinal since Vava scored in the second minute of Brazil’s 5-2 win against France in 1958. After two assists in the group stage, it was his third goal contribution in this final, the highest for joint defender Raphael Guerreiro.
However, he was lucky not to concede another penalty against Sofiane Boufal in the 27th minute. Replays appeared to show Boufal in possession of the ball before Hernandez tackled it, but VAR Canada’s Drew Fischer opted not to intervene. In fact, Boufal was booked. It was another lucky moment in what has been a rollercoaster tournament for the 25-year-old, who now has the opportunity to emulate his brother, the starting left-back in the French champions four years ago.
Player rating (1 = worst, 10 = best)
France: Hugo Lloris 7, Jules Kounde 7, Raphael Varane 7, Ibrahima Konate 8, Theo Hernandez 7, Aurelien Tchouameni 8, Youssouf Fofana 7, Ousmane Dembele 7, Antoine Griezmann 8, Kylian Mbappe 7, Olivier Giroud 6
Submarine: Marcus Thuram 7, Randal Kolo Muani 7
Morocco: Yassine Bounou 7, Achraf Hakimi 7, Jawad El Yamiq 7, Achraf Dari 7, Romain Saiss 5, Noussair Mazraoui 7, Hakim Ziyech 6, Azzedine Ounahi 7, Sofyan Amrabat 7, Sofiane Boufal 7, Youssef En-Nesyri 6
Submarine: Selim Amallah 6, Yahya Attiyat-Allah 6, Abderrazak Hamdallah 6, Zakaria Aboukhlal 6, Abde Ezzalzouli 6
The best and the worst offenders
BEST: Antoine Griezmann, France. Created more chances (four) than any player on either side and helped give France the early breakthrough with a clever move on set up for Hernandez’s opener.
WORST: Olivier Giroud, France. Missed a brilliant chance to put France 2-0 up in the first half, and Les Bleus looks better when replaced by Thuram in a tactical rejig.
Highlights and important moments
So much here for the heartwarming moment between Paris Saint-Germain team-mates Mbappe and Hakimi in the pre-match tunnel.
Just love between Hakimi and Mbappe in the tunnel before the game ❤️ pic.twitter.com/cK45kpucjs
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 14, 2022
Hernandez earned his boots, way up there to score the decisive goal.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPION CREATED THE FIRST SCORE
Theo Hernández puts France ahead 🇫🇷 pic.twitter.com/8YFbCwGN9d
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 14, 2022
After the game: What the players and managers said
Reference: “We gave our best and I couldn’t ask for more. We lost a few players before the game and also during the game. The players that came in did their best. In the end, if you make a few mistakes against a team like France, you pay a heavy price.”
Hernandez: “It’s great to play two games in a row. We’ve worked well to get to the final and it’s going to be a tough game against Argentina.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Hernandez’s goal was the fastest goal in a World Cup semi-final since Vava’s goal for Brazil against France in the second minute of the 1958 semi-final.
– En-Nesyri is the first player to play at least 60 minutes in a World Cup match and have fewer than five touches since at least 1966.
– Griezmann is the first Frenchman to create 20 chances at a single World Cup since Youri Djorkaeff created exactly 20 in 1998. Griezmann is the first Frenchman to create more than 20 chances at a World Cup since Alain Giresse created 24 in 1986.
– Kolo Muani scored with his first touch of the game.
France: Les Bleus move on to Sunday’s World Cup final, where they will face Messi and Argentina at 10am ET.
Morocco: The next scheduled game for Morocco is an African Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa on June 12.